‘Smile’ Blu-ray review
2022 has been a strong year for horror films, from both mainstream studios and the festival circuit. Big hitters like ‘Nope’, and ‘Scream 5’ delivered the goods, and turned a profit to boot. Whilst more lo-fi titles like ’X’ and ‘Terrifier 2’ ended up being huge crossover hits, thanks to word of mouth and social media buzz. I could go on. ‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’, ‘Orphan: First Kill’, ‘Fresh’, ‘Sissy’, hell, even ‘Halloween Ends’ turned out pretty good, and no one saw that coming. But one of the very best, and one of the biggest hits, was Parker Finn’s excellent directorial debut, ‘Smile’, which arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from Boxing Day.
Sosie Bacon plays Rose, an emergency doctor on the psychiatric ward of a hospital. One of her patients is Laura, a PhD student who witnessed the suicide of her professor, and has been severely disturbed by the incident. Laura tries to explain to Rose what has been happening to her, but something in the room which only she can see causes her to start screaming and fall to the floor. Rose calls for help, and when she turns back to Laura she is stood in the middle of the room with a sinister smile on her face. The kind of smile that makes your blood run cold. She then takes a shard of broken glass and slashes her throat.
In the aftermath of this horrific event something latches on to Rose, and she starts experiencing bizarre and terrifying hallucinations of people smiling at her in the same way Laura did. The smiling people have that same feeling of dread and relentless threat that the entity in ‘It Follows’ has. It can be anyone, anywhere, and there’s seemingly nothing you can do to escape it. As the hallucinations escalate in terror and intensity, Rose becomes increasingly convinced that something is trying to kill her, whilst her fiancé and sister think she is losing her mind.
Facing up to your demons and confronting some horrifying trauma from your past has been the catch all metaphor for a lot of horror movie evils we’ve seen in the last decade, and ‘Smile’ certainly trods a well-worn path in this respect. Sosie Bacon however brings a powerhouse central performance to the whole thing, capturing the psychological and physical turmoil of someone spiraling in a personal horror that no one else can understand.
Finn’s confident debut, inspired by his own short film, ‘Laura Hasn’t Slept’ is an elegantly framed and vividly lensed horror cum murder mystery. There’s some real directorial flair on show here, and dare I say it, an almost Ari Aster vibe to the form and style of ‘Smile’. The precision, the texture, the unsettling visual style, as well as the occasionally flashes of Grand Guignol, all reminded me of ‘Hereditary’.
‘Smile’ makes incredibly effective use of long takes and slow panning camera movements. Everything about the visual style is designed to disarm and disorient the viewer. From the chilling and unnerving opening sequence, to the smiling faces that begin to haunt Rose’s every waking moment, this is a film that takes great pleasure in making you feel cold all over.
The slow burn atmospheric chills get under your skin in a way that is far more impactful than the moments where it hits you with jump scares. Which don’t get me wrong, definitely make you jump, but don’t have that same sense of unsettling dread, which makes the first half of this film so bloody terrifying.
The bonus features on the disc kick off with a director’s commentary from Parker Finn. Next up is ‘Something’s Wrong with Rose’ an excellent 30-minute making-of documentary, tracing the development of the film from the original short film to the production of ‘Smile’. Featuring contributions from all the main cast and creatives, this is a proper, in-depth, behind the scenes programme.
‘Flies on the Wall: Inside the Score’ is a fantastic short featurette taking us behind the scenes of the extraordinary work by Cristobal Tapia de Veer, best known for his Emmy winning work on TV show ‘The White Lotus’. There are no interviews, just home-made footage of some of the unique gonzo techniques employed in the creation of the evocative and haunting soundscape of ‘Smile’.
There are two deleted scenes which you can watch with optional director’s commentary. Finally, the original short film ‘Laura Hasn’t Sleep’ with an introduction from Parker Finn rounds out the disc. The film was made in 2019, and premiered at SXSW in 2020. Starring Caitlin Stasey as Laura (a role she would reprise in ‘Smile’) it’s a wonderfully creepy short film, and you can certainly see why Hollywood came knocking.