From the first image on the screen, the new film Smile grabs your attention and makes you feel uneasy.
Smile premiered as the opening night feature at Fantastic Fest. Fantastic Fest, the largest genre film festival in the country, shows horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action, and unusual films that don’t necessarily fit into standard genres. The 2022 edition screened primarily at Austin’s iconic Alamo Drafthouse Theater – South Lamar. It also used online options and other venues to give fans more opportunities.
Smile excelled in both storytelling and cinematography. It combines horror and mystery and held my attention through every minute.
The first image on screen sets the tone for the film. It appears that a woman is peering around a corner. Then the visual rotates, revealing that the woman is actually lying on a bed, unconscious, the floor below her littered with a variety of pills and other unfortunate things.
This is a clue to help solve the upcoming mystery.
The film then introduces Dr. Rose Cotter, played by Sosie Bacon (As We See It, Mare of Easttown). She has a pretty smile, but it disappears as the story unfolds.
Dr. Cotter witnesses a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient. She can’t explain what she saw, then begins to see strange and frightening things she believes relate to that patient’s act. As she tries to deal with the negative impact this has on her life, she runs into issues with her own counselor, her work supervisor, her sister, and her fiancé. All of this relates to strange, frightening smiles that appear on faces around her.
Parker Finn, writer/director of Smile, shared some of his technique and objectives while discussing the film along Fantastic Fest’s red carpet. He said that he likes turning audience expectations on their heads. He explained, “What’s more positive than a smile? I thought if I could make a smile sinister, that would get to people. I also wanted to present the pairing of something that might present as supernatural or psychological.”
In the film Dr. Cotter becomes convinced she has encountered the supernatural, but everyone tells her that she needs to “get some rest.”
The cinematography adds to the creepiness. Some of the scenes, especially of the scary smiles, take place from Dr. Cotter’s point of view. Other scenes include super-closeups, of faces and other body parts that don’t let you look away. Scenes in which the view is upside-down, with the sky at the bottom of the screen and the ground at the top, add to the “what is happening” feeling.
The film succeeds at a very basic requirement of good cinema. You care about the main character, Dr. Cotter, from the very beginning, and as she becomes more isolated and frightened, you worry about what will happen to her.
Smile, distributed by Paramount, will open in theaters September 30. You can watch the trailer below and find out more about the film at its Facebook page.
To get updates about future Fantastic Fest events and ways to view its films, check its website.