What makes us afraid? It is a question that Smileby Parker Finn, is made several times and from different points of view. But, in particular, it is a question that the film does not approach only from the sensory. For the director, the sinister and tenebrous have multiple faces, and it is that slight, but important, nuance that sustains the tension.
At the same time, it is what gives it, perhaps, its strange ambiguity. The film is an exploration of a supernatural event that is entwined with a series of mysterious deaths.
The combination of suspense and horror is brilliant enough to go back and forth in what seems like a broad story. What is it that haunts psychiatrist Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) and seems to be everywhere?
Smile plays with all sorts of possibilities and allows the viewer to follow a transit into darkness. The curse or whatever it is that Rose discovered almost by accident waits in the shadows. Worse, it is an alternative that could also lead her to discover parts of herself completely forgotten. “What’s over there?” the character asks. Not to a dark staircase, a dreamy basement or a desolate landscape. She asks the mirror, her own reflection. To the smile that perhaps begins to draw on his face.
A strange look into the darkness within
More disturbingly, is this real or a twisted play of his mind? For much of its first half hour, Smile arranges the pieces of his plot to narrate a complex idea. What is hidden in what frightens us? A trauma, the possibility that our mind is capable of violently and overwhelmingly deceiving us?
Finn doesn’t immediately answer the questions and the film traverses complicated terrain of suspense. Gradually, the tension within the plot builds to a sense of chilling disorientation.
It does so with an unusual neatness, which turns Rose’s search for answers into a strange look into the darkness within. After a patient commits suicide in her office in an uncontrollable situation, the psychiatrist needs to understand what happened. At the very least, delve into the phenomenon that seems to surround not only the grisly series of murders, but also each of their victims before they die.
Smile a collection of chilling smiles
Rose assumes that whatever drove her patient to suicide was psychiatric in nature. At worst, a type of disorder that he shares with so many other similar cases. He knows well that such an occurrence is almost never coincidental. Her mother committed suicide when she was a child, and the event haunts her like a psychological specter with which she struggles to cope. So, trying to understand what happened in her office and in front of her eyes is a good way to perhaps atone for her fears.
But, as Rose travels down a unique path of increasingly dark and twisted clues, she finds herself surrounded by smiling faces. Static, icy smiles that only she can see. The caveat of the unreliable narrator turns the film into a strange perception of reality. Is the psychiatrist going through an unexplainable picture as inexplicable as that of her patient? Is it a reminiscence of her mother’s death? Rose looks at the strained smiling faces and refuses to believe in the possibility of something supernatural.
The horror of the invisible and silent in Smile
Nevertheless, the evil around him and it is brilliant the way the film leads to its conclusion is unstoppable and relentless. So violent that the deaths, which occur one after the other, leave the obvious sign of a single path. Rose must delve deeper into what she dares not look at. In that which, almost unwittingly, left her to her dead patient and to the many other victims who preceded her. Perhaps she will soon become a victim herself.
In the same way as The Ring by Gore Verbinski reminiscent in tone and narrative density, Smile tells of a curse. One that perpetuates itself, growing stronger and more brutal, as it gains power from death. It may seem a common premise in horror cinema, but Finn finds a way to link the idea to something more elemental. The perception of loss and suffering as the elemental engine of something sinister, nameless and always lurking.
When terror is a mirror
Finn plays with the possibility that the reality depicted in the film is not entirely reliable. The sense of delirium is there and moves from scene to scene. Meanwhile, Rose tries to find a way to challenge the invisible condemnation that haunts her. Like all plots that include a condemnation that must be stopped by dint of discovering its origin, Smile depends on the urgency of answers. So he gives his character time and resources for research.
But, at the same time, he does not forget that the question is not, in fact, what is causing increasingly grotesque and gruesome murders. The big question is raised from the very first scene is how much can we trust Rose’s version of what surrounds her? It is then that the script becomes circular. The protagonist must deal with the danger that stalks her and, in particular, find a possible answer. But, when she does, it is only a layer of the real nature of the horror.
Smile plays with all sorts of possibilities and allows the viewer to follow a transit into darkness. The curse – or whatever it is that Rose discovered almost by accident waits in the shadows. Even worse, it is an alternative that could also lead her to discover parts of herself completely forgotten. “What’s there?” the character asks. But not to a dark staircase, a dreamy basement or a desolate landscape. She asks the mirror, her own reflection. To the smile that perhaps is beginning to appear on his face.
With a skill that surprises, Smile manages to keep its secrets long enough to provoke real fear. A caveat that the film builds by dint of creating an unbreathable and increasingly harsh atmosphere. A major achievement at a time when horror films have become an inevitable mix of hackneyed commonplaces.