A smile is a powerful thing. It can be encouraging, or snarky, it can be an aphrodisiac, or a threat. It’s a facial expression that is easy for even the most socially awkward people to read. In the history of cool movie posters, the one for Smile holds up well. It’s a woman’s face, her face canted down slightly, but her eyes staring directly out at you. She’s smiling, but it’s a super evil, I-obviously-want-to-kill-you-horribly smile. The poster does its job well, giving strong clues about the plot without really giving away anything important. It’s obviously a horror film, obviously starring a young woman, and seems to be borrowing from other well known horror imagery, like one of the posters for It with the monster staring directly out at you from a slightly canted downward face sporting a really evil smile. Good to have a heads up right at the beginning, and I personally like the poster for this movie better than It.
Hollywood is really impressed these days with its ability to “borrow” from other films, sometimes heavily. Some films are better at it than others, and Smile is a real mixed bag. A young woman works as a psychiatrist in a clinic that has a ward for deeply disturbed people. She’s not very good at her job, in my opinion, because she tells everyone she sees right up front that they’re imaging everything. One of her patients is manically afraid because of the man she saw kill himself horribly in front of her. He was smiling at her, she says, and it was awful. Tut tut, says the doc, it’s all in your head. Right about then the patient kills herself horribly in front of doc, while smiling in a way you might remember from the poster. The doc’s life goes steadily downhill from there, and she loses everything important in her life, including good hygiene. She becomes conveniently unable to express a coherent thought in her defense, but everyone tells her it’s all in her head anyway. Every time that happened I smiled a little myself, and it was a kinda snarky one.
A lot of the plot and effects are very derivative. If you read my reviews you know this is irritating to me unless it’s done really well, like the mirror gag in Get Out. If you’re a fan of being jump scared right out of your chair, you will like this. I did a little more than flinch a few times, and even scre…yelled once. So, kudos. The score tries really hard to be ominous, even before the story has had time to get going. It’s a musical empty threat. The very first moment had me reminiscing about the top-of-the-stairs image in Night of the Living Dead and the entire plot was like It Follows lite. There are extreme close ups that are somehow intended to scare, and the ancient gag of opening a door, typically a refrigerator or a medicine cabinet and seeing something scary appear when it’s closed. There are a lot of locked down push shots for reasons I couldn’t discern and a 360° rising drone shot that was technically fascinating but over the top not needed to tell the story. The film has some good ideas, but like Marley’s ghostly friends they get bogged down by the weight of kewl stuff.
Oh, and it can get downright gruesome, if you like that kind of thing. Overall, I didn’t hate this movie so much as I was disappointed because it was darned near really good. I would think not a few of you will like it a lot more than I did because it’s not bad and doesn’t seem to be offensive beyond killing people horribly and making psychiatrists look like idiots. Maybe the next movie these guys make they can take some of the traditional tropes and put their own spin on it. I’d watch that.
Yes once I saw doc had a pet, that goes missing, I was just waiting to see a pet carcass. That never fails to piss me off.