SMILE: 2 ½ STARS. “a slowly paced finale that doesn’t deliver anything new.”
We’ve all heard it. “You should smile more.” But what if there is nothing to smile about?
Sosie Bacon, daughter of actors Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, stars as Rose Cotter, an emergency room psychiatric doctor. A traumatic incident from her past is brought to the fore when she meets a patient named Laura (Caitlin Stasey). In distress after witnessing someone take their own life, the woman is convinced she is being tormented by an entity who “wears people’s faces like masks.”
“It’s smiling at me,” she says. “But not a friendly smile. It’s the worst smile I’ve ever seen in my life.”
As if that wasn’t unnerving enough, the grinning, shape-shifting spirit utters death threats that only the frantic Laura can hear.
Rose, who, as a child, saw her mother die by suicide, has empathy for Laura, but the young woman’s torment is too much to bear and she kills herself in front of her doctor. Shaken to the core, Rose takes a paid week off, but is soon overwhelmed by the same kind of visions that besieged Laura. “I’m really afraid something bad is going to happen,” she says. Is it PTSD from trauma or has the Laura’s evil been transmitted into Rose’s psyche?
As her relationships with her sister (Gillian Zinser) and fiancée (Jessie T. Usher) crumble, she turns to Joel (Kyle Gallner), an ex, who happens to be a police officer, for help, but time is running out.
“How long between each victim’s death?” Rose asks Joel. “None of them lasted longer than a week,” he replies. “Today’s my fourth day,” she says ominously.
“Smile” has an intriguing premise—although the idea of a transmittable evil has been done before, and better, in movies like “It Follows”—an anxiety inducing soundtrack and some unsettling imagery, but as far as real scares go, they’re as rare as smiles in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch.
Director Parker Finn, whose short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept” was the basis for this movie, creates a palpable atmosphere of dread, and knows his way around a “jump” scare, but is unable to hold that tension all the way through the movie’s too-long running time. At 115 minutes, “Smile” stretches the already thin premise to its breaking point. What could have been a tight 90-minute thriller, with compact thrills, outstays its welcome with a slowly paced finale that doesn’t deliver anything new.
There are some nicely staged scenes in “Smile.” A child’s birthday party scene brings the creep factor and the wide smiles of the infected will make you think twice the next time someone flashes a grin your way on the street, but the nitty gritty, the examination of trauma as a source of evil, does not turn that frown upside down.