Often, when talking about cinema, the concepts of terror and horror are confused. Of course, the first is the most used to classify those tapes that, in the first instance, cause us fear. But the second is usually relegated to more atmospheric or supernatural proposals that cause us displeasure. SmileParker Finn’s feature film debut, masterfully manages to combine both sensations.
Finn presents the film as an expansion of his short Laura Hasn’t Sleptwhich was highly praised at the South by Southwest festival in 2020. In those 10 minutes, the story of Laura is told, a young woman who goes to her therapist to express that, in recent days, she has had a hard time falling asleep thanks to a recurring nightmare: someone is chasing her to kill her, but she has different faces and, moreover, smiles at her whenever she is about to take her life.
Since the name of the protagonist is not changed in the film, nor is she played by a different actress, it could well be accepted as a long sequel. Now, Laura – who goes by the last name Weaver – (Caitlin Stasey, with an eerie presence) turns to a new therapist, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), to talk about the same nightmare. On this occasion, we witness what happens to the therapist in her daily life after her conversation with her patient ends in tragedy: Rose begins to see the same things as Weaver, whether she is asleep or not. Also, she is swept up in a series of shocking events.
Based on this premise, the film allows itself to play with the rules of the concepts that we mentioned before. Everything that is on stage causes us fear and, in fact, we are always waiting for something terrible to happen, but, when the reasonable event arrives, something abhorrent also happens that has no explanation and that throws us off balance. I mean, the discomfort never stops. The proposal never lets us go. Never. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing will be an individual decision based on taste, although there’s no denying that it does what it promises, which is to keep our attention and disturb us.
To do this, the director uses various technical resources that are already known, but that are so well executed that they help accentuate the discomfort. First, he draws attention to the fact that a large part of the action was chosen to take place in very bright environments. Contrary to other films that are prepared to be chilling due to their visual darkness and light effects, here there is only a sordid atmosphere that does not resort to tricks, the same ones that work in other proposals, but that here would be distracting.
It is also important to talk about camera management. Cinematographer Charlie Sarroff makes interesting use of long shots and inverted shots that constantly remind us that the point of the film is to put us through different moods. Sarroff amuses himself by experimenting with challenging angles, and changing them at breakneck speed – similar to films like Upgrade: Killing Machine (2018) or The invisible man (2020)–. The color palette is also a key element to confuse the public. It is made up of cheerful tones that create an obvious dichotomy when they are opposed to the rough situations that are the main axis of the story.
Movie review Smile
Complementing this is the editing, by Elliot Greenberg, which maintains the pace and focus of the plot throughout. Except for the prologue, which comprises the first 40 minutes of the film, the rest of the footage feels coherent and consistent. There are no filler scenes and everything has a reason for being.
Closing the technical section we have the incidental music, composed by Cristobal Tapia de Veer. The vibration-saturated hammering produced by the synthesizer is at times faint and at times deafening, adding to the anguish.
However, the reluctance of Smile being ordinary becomes more noticeable in substance than in form, and its main virtue is its honesty. Honesty that comes from the perfectly structured script, written by Finn. Although she borrows some tropes from genre classics released in the 2000s and has a somewhat generic climax, she is fresh because she interprets such tropes differently than expected. Concise, direct, unassuming and without hasty resolutions, he takes the time to make things happen when needed. Sure, without sacrificing dynamism. The balance is appreciated. As if that were not enough, constant use is made of the jumpscaresbut they are logically constructed, so they are not out of place.
In addition to this, Finn understands that a good script is one that is human and relatable. No need to overanalyze. It’s better to just enjoy the crazy ride. But it also cannot be overlooked that, from time to time, criticism is inserted of the cruelty with which society treats people who look, act or think differently. There is also talk of the need, sometimes desperate, of other people to infect us with what they feel.
The star’s performance fits perfectly with the identifiable element. Sosie Bacon has an affable and natural personality that immediately wins over the audience, making it easier to join her on her journey. It matters little that we are on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
That’s exactly what makes the project one of the best of the year: the carefree way in which he does what he wants with those on the other side of the screen. The twisted result is so adrenaline-pumping and corrosive that you can’t help but smile as the credits roll.
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Jose Roberto Landaverde Film buff and music lover. I am fascinated by writing, listening, reading and commenting on everything related to the seventh art. I am a fan of Rocky and Back to the Future and of course one day I will climb the “Philly Steps” and drive a DeLorean. Faithful believer that the cinema is the best teleportation machine, and also that we can all see ourselves represented on the big screen. Constantly, like Scott Pilgrim, I ask myself: “Does bread make you fat?”