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  • Benjamin May

Smile (2022) Review

Rose Cotter is a therapist in an emergency psychiatric ward. One day, Laura, a young student, is brought in for observation. After witnessing the brutal suicide of her professor, she seems to be suffering from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder. As Rose talks to Laura, the girl gets increasingly frightened, claiming an unseen entity is about to kill her. Suddenly, she becomes calm, smiling unnaturally, before slitting her own throat. Afterwards, bizarre events convince Rose that the entity is now stalking her; and that she is its next victim.

An unnerving horror, Parker Finn’s ‘Smile’ is a creepy examination of the lingering effects of trauma. Finn’s narrative contends that trauma effects every aspect of one’s life, and can be passed onto others through one’s actions. Although comparisons to David Robert Mitchell's ‘It Follows’ are inevitable, Parker’s handling of the film’s thesis feels fresh and innovative. Traumatic effects- such as hallucinations, paranoia and guilt- are interwoven cleverly into Finn’s narrative, adding to the psychological horror therein.

The film is suspenseful, having a heady atmosphere of dread throughout. Although the ending is underwhelming, the journey there is an engaging, sinister one. Finn makes excellent use of jump-scares- which often feel like a cheap way to make viewers jolt. They don’t here, as they intensify the paranoid state Rose is in. His characterisation is strong, as is his dialogue, and we believe and sympathise with Rose; even if we’re unsure whether or not we can trust her version of reality. Culturally relevant and unsettling, Finn’s film makes for a wild and devilish ride.

For a horror to be successful, good sound design is necessary; Finn's sound department have created an immersive and disquieting environment of terror. Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s score adds to the discomforting atmosphere, becoming chaotically dissonant as Rose descends further into paranoid fear. Reminiscent at times of Dario Argento and Goblin’s score for ‘Suspiria,’ Tapia de Veer’s work enhances the film’s impact immensely.

Similarly, Charlie Sarroff’s unconventional cinematography heightens the picture's uneasy ambiance. Distinct and creative, his utilisation of low angles, handheld shots and zooms fosters a sense of unpredictable instability. Under Finn’s direction, his implementation of lighting creates contrast and mood, while his composition of images also adds to the film’s horror. He uses symmetry, asymmetry and negative space to create imbalance, tension and emptiness; depending on the needs of the scene. Striking and memorable, Sarroff’s work is captivatingly disturbing.

Furthermore, Lester Cohen’s minimalist production design creates a stark, cold world for Rose to navigate. Cohen uses simple, sparse sets and props to create a sense of realism, emptiness and isolation. Moreover, Alexis Forte’s costume design adds to the film’s horror, as her use of colours, fabrics and differing styles creates contrast, character and symbolism. Additionally, the picture is well edited by Elliot Greenberg, whose work gives ‘Smile’ a rapid, tense pace that vastly intensifies proceedings.

Sosie Bacon stars as Rose, delivering an impassioned, nuanced performance, acutely showing Rose’s psychological disintegration. Feverish and powerful, Bacon’s work is not to be forgotten. Alongside her, Kyle Gallner plays Jake, a cop who is Rose’s ex-boyfriend, and the only one who believes her story. A steady presence throughout, Gallner does fine work in a role lesser actors would have overplayed. Robin Weigert and Gillian Zinser- as Rose’s psychiatrist and sister, respectively- both impress with their range and ability, while Caitlin Stasey is terrific in the all too small role of Laura; portraying her immense fear astutely.

An entertaining, tense horror about the devastating effects of trauma, Parker Finn’s directorial debut ‘Smile’ lingers in the mind long after the credits have rolled. Boasting an engaging narrative dealing maturely with its themes, an atmospheric score and striking production design, it is a riveting watch. Although the ending is anticlimactic, the compelling performances from the cast- especially Sosie Bacon- keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. Creepily captivating, this film will surely not leave you with a frown.


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