SMILE (MOVIE REVIEW)

Subverting a place, object, role or symbol is always a good way to surprise and terrify. With Smile, director Parker Finn takes on the universal action of smiling into a more sinister realm with his feature debut.

Sosie Bacon is Dr. Rose Cotter, a workaholic therapist that can’t seem to pry herself away from helping her patients. And as all movie script enthusiasts will know, this usually is symptomatic of some troubled past.

When a young patient (Caitlin Stasey) arrives claiming to be stalked by an entity, Rose assumes the protocol and reassures her with standard therapist talk. Unfortunately, this time it didn’t work. After she reacts to an outburst from the patient, she turns to see the patient smile broadly as she kills herself, with the expression lingering even in death.

This no doubt is unsettling but Rose is about to realise this isn’t just a spectator sport. She begins to see people around her smiling in that eerie way, and begins to question her own sanity.

Truth be told, the main structure of Smile is nothing revolutionary. Protagonist has trauma, she uncovers paranormal event, slowly begins to believe it, people around her don’t, and paranormal event climaxes to teach her something about her trauma – and possibly the audience as well. And although having a tried formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is when it is further bogged down by trite writing.

My issue with Smile is just how the build-up is engineered. Rose bounces between motivations and her actions are often unexplained or fathomable – a series of unconnected events interspersed by flashbacks to remind us that she’s acting from trauma.

It doesn’t help that the Finn, who’s also screenwriter, keeps leveraging on the ask-a- question-leave-it-unanswered trope. Her husband, her ex, her sister, her colleagues… they all do the same: Ask Rose what’s going on or what she meant, and she’ll leave on a mission. It’s frustrating.

The acting here is uneven, with some coming across more television tham cinematic (such as Kyle Gallner as Rose’s ex who’s a cop) while those that did perform (Stasey, who’s also featured on the poster) being snuffed out early.

But perhaps most distracting of all is Bacon herself. From initial impressions, her delivery is good, tethered in a deeper delivery. Acting goes past the face and a good actor uses their bodies and movements to suggest messages. After all, it is said that 55% of communication is body language. However, for Bacon, she leverages a bit too much on them, making her performance feel staged at times. There’s the awkward countertop slapping to ground herself when her husband asks if she’s alright; the abrupt and cliched nail-biting; and more than enough twitches to make for a livestream to remind us that she is a nervous wreck.

Though Smile’s ending was surprisingly good in its imagery and message, I still wonder if it was enough to sit through the earlier bits. But if you love your jump scares, there’s plenty here to satisfy.

2.5*

Great idea but mediocre execution. Smile suffers from an uneven performance that makes for a distracting watch

First published: www.movieXclusive.com

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