Horrors lie behind the mask

(Photos: Shutterstock)
Smile: this bone-chilling spectacle belies its name, leveraging the tropes of the horror label to deliver “expected” scares.

In Parker Finn’s feature directorial debut, psychiatrist Rose Cotter witnesses live the brutal and traumatic suicide of one of her patients. Shortly after this tragedy, Rose faces relentless harassment from a mysterious and terrifying force. اضافة اعلان

Smile, a horror film directed by Parker Finn, tells the story of a psychiatrist who is tortured by a mysterious force following the traumatic suicide of one of her patients. (Photos: IMDB)

Then begins for the psychiatrist a real descent into hell, where nothing and no one seems to be able to save her from this terrible curse.

Against all odds, Smile is inspired more by It Follows than Truth or Dare, as its surprisingly long duration and R rating suggest.

Descent into nightmares
The story is carefully calibrated to do different things to different viewers, bursting with surprising scares and bizarre, overwhelming tensions.

It is easy to trace Finn’s character development and storyboard, which seem entirely deliberate. Even so, the impact of promised horrors still resonates as they arrive.

From the outset, Smile does not spare its audience. In a hospital’s smooth and sanitized atmosphere, we suddenly fall into a nightmare. The sound is strident, and the bursts are inevitable as blood spurts out in a monstrous crash. A young student has just slaughtered herself under the dumbfounded gaze of a psychiatrist.

Although calm seems to have seeped back, the nightmare begins again when Rose walks through the door of a large, luxurious but charmless house. The therapist, apparently, manifests the same hallucinatory delusions as her suicidal patient.

Documenting a chain of curses transmitted from one victim to another, Smile stirs up a whole imagination born of horror films — from the Ring to It follows, via the Final Destination series. However, unlike a large number of current horror productions, it dispenses with quotes and tributes. A far cry from the elevated horror wave, Smile stands out as a popular and surprisingly refreshing thriller. The approach had indeed fallen somewhat out of fashion since the Conjuring surge, largely inspired by 70s possession films.

The evil of our century
By concentrating too much on retro-nostalgic themes, mainstream horror films have gradually abandoned the societal issues that were previously signature. Smile inaugurates a return to these concerns by centering on mental health disorders. The demon who pursues Rose Cotter, without ever saying her name, thus spins a metaphor for depression — the evil of our century, all the more vivid in the current post-COVID context.

The film also explores the symptoms of depression, such as the incomprehension of loved ones invariably leading to isolation and the sometimes-endless series of therapy sessions. These topics are delved into with perhaps a little too much aplomb, but the final crescendo is masterful.

The title also takes on its full meaning in the light of this subtext. A smile: A mask behind which the protagonist tries to hide all the evils eating away at her… until the varnish cracks. While it lacks finesse at times in the writing and grammar, Smile offers breathless entertainment punctuated with intelligence.

The magician reveals all
Finn manages to hold his watchers’ nervous attention by persecuting poor Rose, who ultimately misses the classic marks of a heroine. Indeed, the film chooses to stage ordinary characters in a fatalistic metaphor of the mundane. Then it surprises us with a pessimistic — though predictable — conclusion.

Sharp, loud beeps and brutally fast cuts make viewers groan and flinch over things as ordinary as Rose biting into a burger or ripping out a fingernail. The visual elements are startling and compelling, the tuned music adds an impact whenever the slow-burning tension resolves with a brutal surprise. All of this makes Smile an efficient ride, if unusually relentless.

The director succeeds as a magician, craftily revealing to the audience how the trick is done. The script holds whispers of The Ring, with Rose experiencing an inciting incident, discovering she’s on a deadly deadline, and reluctantly following her fate. However, where other films that followed The Ring’s beats just felt derivative (including several of its own awkward sequels), Smile uses the story’s familiarity to build anticipation.

When Rose sees a possible solution to her problem, Smile invites viewers to consider the logical endpoint of her discovery and wonder if she will make the same selfish choice that Naomi Watts’ character fell into in The Ring — and if so, who will suffer.

Similarly, Smile’s setup largely mimics that of It Follows, with a threat transmitted virally from person to person, relentlessly heading towards its next victim, while wearing a variety of faces, transforming everyone in the life of the protagonist into a potential threat. Again, instead of feeling like a copycat, Smile uses the familiarity to heighten the sense of danger, until viewers can no longer trust anyone on screen to be human. Thus, the audience is played perfectly into Rose’s increasingly deteriorating state of mind.

Torturing terrors
A sense of dread dominates the film from the moment a police officer rejects his responsibility to investigate the grotesque death: “She seems completely crazy to me!” This statement casts Smile straight into combat with stigmas surrounding mental illnesses and the urge to reject — or demonize — the people who live with them.

Finn manages to bridge the gap between ill and good intentions. The sympathy of viewers is likely with Rose, who lives with a torturing terror she cannot combat. Nevertheless, her fellow characters struggle to deal with a woman who blames “demons” for her panic and erratic behaviors.

The film is simple and effective, both frightening and innovative. The scenario and its execution remain classic and without too many surprises, but Smile still manages to spook through its staging, well-crafted jumps, high-tension scenes, and talented actors.

Parker Finn knows where he is going, and directs the viewer with relentless efficiency. It certainly does not revolutionize the genre by offering an unforgettable film, but still manages to stand out enough. In the end, the director delivers a simple and effective work, which will not fail to make you jump and keep you in suspense.

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