Rose, who was just a child when her mother killed herself, is understandably shaken by the incident and her supervisor (Kal Penn) asks her to take time off. But it’s not long before Rose begins to experience the same kinds of visions and apparitions that Laura saw, as her mental well-being is challenged by her fiancé (Jessie T. Usher), her own therapist. (Robin Weigert) and her stay-at-home mom sister (Gillian Zinser). As her visions increase in intensity and even bleed into her life in acts of physical violence, Rose turns to an ex-boyfriend who is a detective (Kyle Gallner, last seen earlier this year in Scream) to help him find out what’s going on.
Without giving away too much of the game, horror fans (even casual ones) will be able to spot the movie silo in which Smile is located. This includes members as illustrious as the ring, Couldlsea little of bird boxand a bunch of It follows.
But while the influences can be easy to spot and make some of the plot machinations obvious to diehards, Smile still succeeds based on Finn’s total control over the film’s tone, underpinned in large part by Bacon’s emotionally harrowing performance, Charlie Sarroff’s unsettling cinematography (although we wonder at one point if Rose already turned on all the lights in his house), and above all the score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer, a disturbing mix of electronics and concrete music.
In contrast, Finn relies a bit too heavily on fear jumps, some earned, but some just free. This unfortunately undermines some of the atmosphere he evokes in the rest of the film. There are also a scene or two where Rose carries real evidence in her hands to back up what she says is happening to her, but oddly enough she doesn’t even try to expose it to people who might be able to help her.
Nevertheless, there is an internal logic and coherence for Smile which, frankly, puts it head and shoulders above fall’s other buzz about the studio horror release, the wildly overrated Barbaric. This film begins with an intriguing first act and a legitimately surprising switcheroo before degenerating into a series of incredibly silly character choices and uncharted themes.
Those one or two less insulting cases we mentioned earlier, Smile doesn’t indulge in the kind of silly character actions that can quickly wipe out so much genre effort. The menace stalking Rose and other victims also lines up nicely with his own character arc (and again, solid work here from Bacon, who makes you believe in Rose’s disorientation and frayed nerves), and with the film’s underlying themes of unexamined trauma and grief.