Smile (2022)

Smile (2022) Cover

Smile is an exhausting exercise in tedium. If you've watched the trailer you've watched the whole movie condensed down to a palatable format. While Smile has an interesting gimmick and a creepy premise, it ignores all of that and just uses the same jump scare tricks over and over again to pummel the audience into submission.

In Smile Sosie Bacon plays Rose Carter, a woman who grew up in a traumatic and painful home and is living her entire life to overcompensate for growing up with her abusive mother by throwing herself at her job at a mental health crisis center as if it's a cliff she can plummet off of. The action starts only a few minutes into the film as a patient comes in and smiles at her while committing suicide at Rose, passing the smiling demon on and infecting Rose with the curse of smiling people jumping out at her from every shadow and from around every corner for the next two hours.

There is a lot of baseline quality to the production. The look and feel of the film is well done and there's a lot of competency from moment to moment. There's no single thing that is wrong by itself in isolation here. The cast is solid. They generally manage to put out nuanced performances that convey subtext and a deeper pathos to all of the characters. The characters are all three-dimensional and generally have more than one singular motivation as well as personal growth.

Moreover, even the direction is not without merit. As an example, the director (Parker Finn) uses upside-down shots to convey the overturning of Rose's world, and this is a perfect use of that technique. It adds a visual metaphor to the way the world has metaphorically changed for her. But then every single overhead shot for the rest of the film is upside down to the point where it loses all meaning. The startling jump cut in isolation is not bad, but when used repetitively and regularly in quick succession it becomes the norm. There are other examples, too, but you can't really go into them without spoilers.

The core of the problem is that Parker Finn delivers very little payoff for all the tricks that they use. The frequent use of jarring cuts with loud music that are intended to scare often has no payoff, leaving the audience jumping at nothing. The smiling itself, a powerful and uncomfortable expression in the right context, never feels like it has thematic resonance with the core themes of trauma. From the outside looking in... why does this thing smile? We are left asking ourselves what it means that it smiles as it tears its way through the cast and the answer we are left with at the end is that it's just because it's creepy looking.

And at the end of the day, that's just not enough. What's left is a tired and sad work that jumps out and yells boo to the point of being nauseating. There are a few things here of value but I do not feel that they are outweighed by the burden of the experience required to get to them. I walked out of the theater feeling tired and sad, beaten down by the experience I had just lived through and no better off for having lived through it.

Final Verdict:An exhausting test of endurance against endless sharp and startling edits that lack substance. Pass.