“SMILE”: Synopsis and Review

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A clapper board with popcorn. Photo by GR Stocks, courtesy of Unsplash.

With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 79% and raving reviews from audience members and critics alike, director Parker Finn’s movie “SMILE” is scaring movie-goers on silver screens across the globe. This suspense horror is a must watch for the Halloween season. 

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD 

The film began with a haunting scene of a woman laying in bed, dead from an overdose. Just as a child opened the bedroom door to witness the atrocity, it was revealed that this was a flashback. Psychiatrist Rose Cotter, played by Sosie Bacon, was jolted into consciousness while sitting in her office. She was the child in the scene.

80-hour work weeks and constant time spent at the ER’s psych ward were the norm for Rose. Her next patient was a man that foreshadows the themes of “SMILE.” Carl, played by Jack Sochet, had a nonsensical conversation with Rose revolving entirely around death. Rose admitted Carl to the ward for a couple days, much to the dismay of her boss, Dr. Desai, played by Kal Penn.

A phone call interrupted Rose’s departure from work; the caller was a young woman named Laura, played by Caitlin Stasey. 

Ever since her professor died by suicide days earlier, Laura claimed that something evil had latched on to her. She said that the entity following her was taking physical forms of both people she knew and strangers. 

It would not leave her alone, and it came brandishing a harrowing smile.

Since Rose was a psychiatrist, she employed the stereotypical advice given to patients. This involved telling Laura that what she thinks is real is actually not. Laura was frustrated at this guidance and remained terrified for her safety.

Laura then had an episode where she killed herself. While standing over Rose, she displayed a menacing smile before grabbing the piece of broken vase. Rose was paralyzed with fear and was unable to react to what just happened.

The next scene placed Rose with her fiancé, Trevor, played by Jessie T. Usher. They reside in a charming house in the country with their cat. In this scene, Rose downs a heap of wine, showing that she is struggling to cope with the strange occurrences happening around her. Another looming pressure she is tasked with is to sell the house she grew up in, where her mother died.

The next day, police visited Rose at the hospital to ask her questions about Laura’s death. While interviewing Rose, officers spoke about Laura in a demeaning way, referring to her as a “nut job” and “crazy,” which in turn upset Rose. 

She walked down the hall and was met with her patient, Carl, smiling on the edge of his bed in his room. But his smile was not civil, it was sinister; this was followed by a fit of screaming.

Rose was urged to take some time off by her boss, but she spent it absorbed in the circumstances of Laura’s death. In doing this, she noticed smiling human figures appearing around her. A horrifying face startled her as she listened to an audio clip of Laura’s interview, then her cat went missing.

Rose resorted to seeking out medications from her therapist, Dr. Northcott, played by Robin Weigert. However, Dr. Northcott refused to prescribe anything to Rose, and instead utilized the same tactics of guidance as Rose used on Laura. In essence, Rose was deemed as unhealed from witnessing her mother’s suicide as a child, represented in the opening scene of the movie. 

Rose found herself in even more anguish when she attended her nephew’s birthday party, only to be terrorized by a guest smiling at her in a way that resembled the evil smiles of Laura and Carl. When her nephew opened his gift from her, Rose’s missing, dead cat was pulled from the box. Rose denied killing her cat, though there was an uncertainty in her tone. Rose screamed in front of everyone until she fell into a glass table, cutting her arms. 

Her fiancé, Trevor, was left with no choice but to stage an intervention with Dr. Northcott. Trevor’s motives became clearer as the spontaneous meeting went on: he had no desire to help Rose with her ongoing problems. This only triggered Rose to delve further into her paranoia, driving her to conduct an investigation into the deaths that occurred before Laura’s.

With no faith left in Trevor, Rose visited her ex-boyfriend, Joel, played by Kyle Gallner. She persuaded him to help her uncover the mysterious force that was now threatening her life. The pair met with the only survivor of the curse, a prison inmate known as Robert Talley, played by Rob Morgan. He disclosed that the entity is induced by trauma, making Rose the perfect target. Killing is the only way to outlive the curse, according to Robert.

Time was running out. Rose knew that she had to fend off evil on her own if she wanted to survive, so she faced her fears and went to her abandoned childhood home. The smiling figure took the form of Rose’s mother, blaming Rose for her overdose and subsequent death. For the first time, Rose directly confronted the guilt she had carried her entire life. She set the entity and house ablaze, thus ridding herself of the curse.

“SMILE” closed with Rose’s ex-boyfriend, Joel, becoming the evil force’s next victim. He attempted to save Rose from the fire, only to find her drenching herself in gasoline and setting herself alight. She had a disturbing, recognizable smile spread across her face.

SPOILERS OVER

UNLV student Jill Mendoza saw “SMILE” in theaters earlier this month and warned viewers about the movie’s scares. 

“There are so many things about ‘SMILE’ that are just terrifying,” Mendoza said. “There aren’t too many jumpscares, but the few that are in there are so creepy. There’s also this anticipation that lingers throughout the whole movie, you’re just waiting for something crazy to happen.”

Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times wrote about the film, “The jump scares are shockingly persuasive, gaining considerable oomph from Tom Woodruff Jr.’s imaginative practical effects and Charlie Sarroff’s tipsy camera angles.” 

Her critical review also honed in on the movie’s shadowy color palette, and how it set the overall tone without being overwhelmingly murky.

Of the acting, Catsoulis said, “Bacon’s performance, both shaky and determined, ensures that the very real agony of mental illness and its stigmatization register as strongly as any supernatural pain. Like the emotional injury they represent, the smiles in ‘Smile’ are — in one case, quite literally — bleeding wounds that can’t be stanched.”

“SMILE” is a movie that brings fear back into horror movies. Its all-encompassing trauma theme is a relatable one for audience members, making it easier to connect to the characters, especially to Rose. As viewers watch Rose struggle to maintain her sanity, the causes for her anxiety are justified. The film’s cinematography does an excellent job at conveying Rose’s slipping mental health, and the ending leaves movie-goers wanting more.
“SMILE” is nearly two hours long and is rated R. It came out on Sept. 30, meaning there is not much time left to see it in theaters. The film will eventually be available on the streaming service Paramount+, which has a subscription that costs $4.99 per month.

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