I just saw Smile and it was okay. It’s got an interesting prologue, climax, and metaphorical underpinning as to the effects of psychological trauma and heredity. The midsection, however, is a mostly tedious rattle-and-scream toy with TV-movie-esque plotting. It’s clearly a film where the makers had an intriguing idea, but at some point the studio stepped in and said:
“Okay, that’s all fine and whatever, but she needs to kill the cat. (Don’t mind “why”. Haven’t you heard the saying that you can’t show a cute animal in the first act without killing it by the third? I think it’s called Schrodinger’s gun, I don’t know.) And you’ll need a jump scare at least every 5 to 6 minutes or else the dumb teenagers in the audience are going to say it’s not scary enough. And what’s this about her confronting her trauma at the end? No. This is a HORROR film. It needs to end with a bait-and-switch and then something spooky happening so that the audience leaves tweeting about it.”
Unfortunately, the tropes render the story pretty nonsensical at points. Characters keep talking about the protagonist getting help “before something bad happens” several scenes after - to their minds - she killed the cat and traumatised a roomful of children with its corpse. Do middle-class white women really get that much leeway? “Well, she has started torturing small animals and smacking kids about... But give her some Uggs and a pumpkin spice latte and she’ll calm right down.”
The story is that a shrink played by Sosie Bacon (Kevin’s daughter) witnesses a patient commit suicide in front of her, her face contorted into a grotesque smile. A demonic entity is then passed to Sosie, and from there the film unfolds much like any other in the “memetic horror” subgenre, just with smiles as opposed to a videotape, children’s game, or whatever the meme happens to be.
The directing is really strong at times, with a good use of colour, POV, bird’s eye, and flipped shots. The camera zooms into windows like a Hitchcock film and the psychiatric ward makes effective use of calming pastels (“spooky” mental hospitals in the movies are a bugbear of mine).
None of it was scary to me because, I don’t know, at this point in my life I need the fear to be coming from atmosphere and characterisation as opposed to memes. Ironically, the smiles would have been a lot creepier if they were just ordinary smiles. Like, she looks normal and happy, but she’s STABBING HERSELF OMG BABS STOP. That’s pretty spooky. But when the actors in this film pull their silly faces they just look like kids doing a TikTok challenge.
And as I should really have expected, the plot ends up nowhere, with no reason as to why anything happened. If it had ended on the shot of Sosie Bacon walking away from a burning house it would have made sense as a psychological piece. But again, you can hear that studio executive... “So, what, that’s it? Where’s the twist? Where’s the meme? You’ve gotta end on the meme, guys!”
Here’s a question: why the fun did the BBFC give this film an 18 but Men, the Alex Garland shocker, a 15? Smile has “strong bloody violence”, but its violence is of a generic CGI sort. A slashed throat, blood sprays, a broken arm on a fantasy creature... Men, on the other hand, has themes of sexual violence, domestic abuse, a shot of a suicide impaled on a spiked fence with ankles broken and guts spilled, a drawn-out “birthing” scene with faux-vaginas and ripping sounds... Maybe the classifiers were spooked by the scary smileys.