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Smile Is the Most Fun a Formula Horror Movie Can Be

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Smile Is the Most Fun a Formula Horror Movie Can Be

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James Jay Edwards reviews Smile, a horror film written and directed by Parker Finn in his feature film debut, and starring Sosie Bacon. (Paramount Pictures

Where the heck has writer/director Parker Finn been hiding? After making just a couple of well-received and award-winning short films, he comes out of nowhere with one of the scariest movies of the year, his feature film debut Smile.

(Smile, theatrical release poster, courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Smile is about a psychotherapist named Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon from 13 Reasons Why and Scream: The TV Series) who has a new patient (All Cheerleaders Die’s Caitlin Stasey) suffering from hallucinations of an evil being that takes the form of anything and anyone, but always smiling. The patient kills herself in front of Rose, and Rose finds herself experiencing the same types of hallucinations. While investigating, she finds that she is part of a chain (or curse), and she has to figure out how to break it.

Parker Finn’s previous short Laura Hasn’t Slept provided the filmmaker with the impetus for Smile. It revolves around Rose’s new patient (the Laura in the title) as she sees a different therapist to help her deal with a recurring nightmare about, yep, you guessed it, a creepy smiling man. It’s a reality-blending look at mental health that sets the stage well for Smile.

(Smile, courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

On the surface, Smile seems like just another modern Blumhouse-era horror movie. And indeed, it does follow a formula that has been done to death recently with movies like The Ring, It Follows, and Truth or Dare. It’s a pass-on-the-curse movie that checks all the boxes. Where Finn manages to set his movie apart from the others is in his confident, near-flawless execution.

Finn is from the James Wan school of fright flick pacing. Smile simmers with palpable tension from the first scene to the last, only breaking the suspense for scream-inducing jump scares. The scares start off cheap, with loud phone rings or burglar alarms providing more sound-based shocks than visual ones, but those only serve to set the audience up for the very real freakouts to come. Finn’s sense of buildup-and-release coupled with the movie’s anything-can-happen attitude makes Smile one nail-bitingly crazy ride.

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Another thing that sets Smile apart from the crowd is its characters and how they move the story along. Again, Rose is a psychotherapist, so she goes through stages of self-diagnosis that help provide exposition to the audience in an organic way. She also has a police detective ex-boyfriend (Scream’s Kyle Gallner) who is along to help and provides even more much-needed backstory. Finn is able to build his world and tell his story without spoon-feeding anything to the viewer. Smile is pretty smart for a formula horror flick.

(Smile, courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Despite Smile being basically the movie that it promises to be, it’s incredibly engaging and even boasts a few fun surprises. Parker Finn is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. If he can make a movie as good as Smile from a derivative plot, just imagine what he could do with a wholly original story. And hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to see it.

Smile is now playing exclusively in theaters.


Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.


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James Jay Edwards

James Jay Edwards is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and is the current President of the San Diego Film Critics Society. He sees dead people, can handle the truth, and knows that Han shot first.