By Jack McLaughlin
The horror genre has a new menacing face with the release of “Smile.”
The film stars Sosie Bacon as Rose, a therapist who witnesses the death of one of her patients who is then cursed by the malicious spirit that killed them.
The spirit makes its victims see hallucinations before forcing them to die in front of another person in order to pass the curse onto a new host.
Rose takes it upon herself to break the curse, which results in a drawn-out mystery with not many scary moments.
“Smile” promoted itself as an all-out scarefest, with a lot of unsettling promotion leading up to its Sept. 30 release. Viewers may be disappointed to find that all but a few of the spooks are relatively tame jumpscares that even the most frightened film-goer will be able to handle.
The scenes that break free from relying on jumpscares serve as the best. A particularly chilling moment involving a phone call toward the middle will leave you holding your breath in absolute fear - until it’s almost immediately undercut by a lacking jumpscare.
Jumpscares are commonplace in modern horror, so it’s surprising to see “Smile” fumble with making resonating ones. The scares are hardly earned in these moments, and the lack of a proper buildup to them will result in them simply not being scary.
Despite this, the unsettling feeling of not knowing if what you’re watching is a hallucination - or not - keeps you on edge during these sequences, and the anticipation to make this discovery never fails to entertain.
The best of these moments was when Rose went to a birthday party. The little clues it gave early on in the movie will not prepare you for what’s coming and was one of the rare horror scenes to genuinely shock me.
Cinematography is a strong standout. The camera work offers wildly unique shots and angles that put the viewers in unnatural and sometimes uncomfortable positions to watch the horrors unfold.
It was a bit difficult to see what was going on sometimes on-screen. The film uses a lot of dark colors that sometimes aid a frightening moment, but for standard dialogue scenes, it comes off as distracting.
The film’s second act mostly relies on viewers’ interest in the actual story, with few scares to keep engagement. This section is mostly a bore, with the leadup to the finale being the most exciting part as the attention is drawn away from uncovering the mystery of the curse.
Performances are also not exactly stellar here. No one was exactly noteworthy, and everyone on-screen filled their role with nothing memorable added to their character.
The spirit haunting our main character targets those who suffer from some type of previous trauma from a prior moment in their life. This forces Rose to gain the strength it takes to overcome her trauma introduced earlier in the story which gives us the most compelling scenes from any of the characters.
Rose’s boyfriend, Trevor (Jessie T. Usher), goes absent from the film at a certain point and never returns to the story leaving the viewer with an unfulfilling character despite them being present for a lot of the first half.
Fortunately, the film picks up in the finale where the last 15 minutes are easily going to be the most memorable for viewers. The ridiculous turns taken in these moments with a devastating final shot almost makes up for the fairly uneventful buildup.
A strong and suspenseful buildup to the big scare will leave you covering your eyes with an unusually high heart rate which is surprising given the lack of many good scares leading up to this moment.
“Smile” has a few shining sequences that make itself a unique entry in the horror genre, but the lack of consistent scares and decent story will leave you wanting more from this intriguing concept.
C+: Find something scarier to watch.