Movies with Isaiah: 'Smile' is an unsettling, unique horror film


Horror has experienced a serious resurgence with several memorable and quality outings with "Black Phone," "Nope" and "Barbarian." Would the trend continue with "Smile"? The very first time I watched the teaser for "Smile," it completely intrigued me. If my memory serves me correctly, the teaser was a simple and disturbing visual of a character smiling in the most unsettling fashion. Even to this day, I watched expecting the usual jump scare that would occur during teasers of that fashion.

Once the full-length trailer was released, to say I was curious about the concept itself would be a complete understatement - when we experience the physical sensation of a smile or receive the same reaction in return. Normally the perception of the smile is associated with an innocent, wholesome and positive quality that yields a comforting perspective. This film took an innocent reaction and transformed it into an unsettling, creepy, frightening and a paranoid-filled scenario that has viewers questioning the idea of what's hiding behind the smile.

The film is the directorial debut of Parker Finn, who based this film on a short of his creation by transforming it into a cinematic outing. "Smile" brings forth the story of a main character named Rose Cotter, a doctor treating patients at an emergency therapy clinic, using her own traumatic experiences in an attempt to assist those in similar circumstances. After a horrific incident with a patient, she begins to experience haunting scenarios that bring her into the pits of despair.

In general, the story isn't exactly an original concept because films such as "The Ring," "It Follows," "The Grudge" and "Amityville Horror" all have utilized the same premise in some way, shape or form. Finn's story takes all of those interesting dynamic elements and increases the intensity, atmosphere and disturbing imagery to the stratosphere by intentionally creating an environment of authentic unease. "Smile" stars Sosie Bacon, Kal Penn, Kyle Gallner and Caitlin Stasey. However, one can view this film as a significant vehicle for Bacon, given that it is the story of the lead character Rose and how she confronts this frightening presence following her every move.

I've always found these types of stories favorites of mine when one thinks about what the mind is able to create. The mind is powerful in how it is able to utilize the imagination of what's hiding in the dark, behind a smile or lurking in general within a specific environment. This film plays upon that concept beautifully in how Finn demonstrates how to utilize the camera in focusing on shadows in the distance. He uses that same technique to build up the sense of dread with the viewers feeling evil staring at them directly and at the same time experiencing the sensation of chills running up and down your spine.

This film reminded me of a nightmare that I had as a child involving practically the same exact scenario. The short end of the frightening dream involved this thing slowly going through a metamorphosis phase of many different beings before reaching its "true form." What I remember to this very day was this thing had white eyes, deformed teeth and was completely shrouded in shadows running toward me with a growling laugh. Watching this film had me remembering that exact nightmare from my childhood.

"Smile" has to be one of the most unsettling and unique horror films that I've ever watched on screen. In the past, these types of films have often relied on jump scares throughout the whole process to where it's become a gimmick. Finn intentionally placed the sequences in certain parts where you have no idea when they're coming. The jump scares are very unpredictable, and you're not prepared for any of them. I jumped at least three different times because of how cleverly they are hidden in places where you honestly believe that you're safe.

Bacon's performance is absolutely powerfully intense and tragic. She captures the essence of a likable character that you feel immense sympathy for. Recent horror films have failed at times in creating a true likable lead, and I am grateful that not only this film broke that trend, but "Black Phone," "Nope" and "Barbarian" severed that mold, too. Bacon has a bright future ahead of her with her acting talent, and I believed every single piece of dialogue and emotional reactions with her performance as Rose.

I also have to state how this story managed to successfully create the wonderment of whether Rose is truly going insane. The majority of these psychological horror films surrounding an entity at some point reveal the truth in obvious fashion. "Smile" even has the viewer wondering if they're simply imagining the horror along with Rose. My only gripe, if you could refer it as such, is seeing the thing itself, which was clever and well done. I believe it would've been better if Parker and the visual effects team used practical effects rather than computer-generated imagery.

Other than this minor complaint, and I do mean minor, I had no issues with this film. I loved it from beginning to end, and I was truly scared throughout the viewing. It takes a lot for a horror film to frighten me, and Finn succeeded with "Smile." I highly recommend this wonderful horror journey. My final rating is a 10/10 and two thumbs up. Also, it's not for children, as there are a lot of disturbing images, violence and profanity. Of course, use your own discretion. Great viewing with an audience and significant others. 2022 continues its quality cinematic outings of the horror genre.

Isaiah Ridley works at Beacon Cinemas in Sumter. To watch his movie reviews online, find him @Izzy's Cinematic Escape on YouTube.