The disturbing debut of Parker Finn Smile transforms a sympathetic gesture into a threat. Smiles, warm and welcoming by nature, mask deeper, more troubling intentions in this harrowing film about a demonic spirit clinging to the traumas of its victims. The adage about smiling in difficult times here takes on a sinister tone.
Dr. Rose Cutter (Sosie Bacon), an affable clinical psychiatrist, knows none of this when she meets Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey), a graduate student who recently witnessed a gruesome suicide. The two meet in an oddly homey ER psychiatric wing exam room. (The hallway walls are painted bubblegum pink; the exam room has blue and yellow accents.) As they sit down to talk, Laura hurriedly recounts how her teacher beat himself to death in front of her, the haunting smiles she sees on the faces of strangers and loved ones, the sinking feeling that he is going to die soon.
The bottom line An unsettling experience.
An unsettling experience.
Rose nods understandingly in response to this information, but it’s clear to Laura that the doctor isn’t listening. She is forming a diagnosis, seeking professional language to rationalize the new patient’s palpable fear of her. Suddenly Laura is silenced by an unseen entity. The frantic atmosphere evoked by the young woman’s pleas gives way to an eerie silence. Laura grabs a shard of a broken pottery vase and rips her flesh open. The camera (the DF is Charlie Sarroff) is undeterred by this suicide, which is soundtracked by Rose’s bloodcurdling screams; she moves, constantly brooding over her lacerated skin.
Smile it’s full of somber scenes like this, unnerving sequences that lodge in your psyche as you follow Rose’s terrified and sometimes laborious adventure. The film, which works in the same supernatural and psychic traditions as The ring, enjoy creating scary kills and creating a threatening environment. Lester Cohen’s production design, marked by calculated austerity, builds serene scenes waiting to be disturbed. Meanwhile, Cristóbal Tapia de Veer’s score glides through the narrative, adding depth to the already frightening bodily sounds: teeth biting nails, labored breathing, bones breaking.
When Rose starts experiencing the same hallucinations as Laura, she puts it down to exhaustion and past trauma. She has always been good at compartmentalizing her life, relegating painful memories to the back of her mind. But the more she sees her angular smile (the one plastered all over the film’s promotional materials), the harder it becomes for her to ignore what’s happening to her.
Finn and Sarroff portray Rose’s heightened state of mind and growing insecurity with whimsical visual language. Upside-down shots, quick flashes that translate to tricks of the eye, and a predilection for close-ups put us firmly in Rose’s perspective. The film never gives in to the anxiety, using the stomach-churning, heart-pounding sensation of an anxious spiral to sustain viewers.
SmileFinn’s script, written by Finn, confidently outlines Rose, but doesn’t display the same confidence when it comes to other characters like her fiancé, Trevor (Jesse T. Usher). The gallery of secondary figures struggles to shed its utilitarian impression. Then there’s the reliance on folk psychology, lines that feel like they were drawn straight from a social media post diagnosing banal habits as traumatic responses, which make scenes between Rose and her patients or Rose and her own therapist (Robin Weigert) feel amazing.
Some of these contraptions can be ignored as Rose becomes more and more desperate. Bacon deftly transforms the character before our eyes: the doctor who was once serene and serene falls apart as she realizes the seriousness of her situation. She tries to explain her experience to Trevor and her sister, Holly (Gillian Zinser), and tries to get a prescription for anxiety medication from her therapist, who feeds her platitudes about the nature of anxiety. trauma.
The only person Rose realizes she can trust is her ex-boyfriend, Joel (Kyle Gallner), a police officer who is also the only person she felt vulnerable around. The duo team conduct an ad hoc investigation into the reason for these visions, trying to find out if anyone has ever survived being possessed by this wandering spirit fueling the trauma. His journey makes up the bulk of the second act, which sags and loosens an otherwise tense story.
Despite his wandering into predictable territory, Smile It could easily have been consigned to the growing pile of contemporary works exploring trauma; clichés about hurt people hurting others and healing one’s inner child sometimes make their way to center stage here. But the film also teases a much more interesting truth about the lengths people will go to in order to distance themselves from mental disorders or perceived instability.
Rose, like Laura before her, insists that she is not crazy. She rejects the loaded term which, along with her metonymy, appears several times. But when she tries to trust her loved ones, they avoid her reality and instead try to apply familiar labels to her experience. Her boss (Kal Penn) makes terse statements about employee mental health and happiness, her fiancé questions harshly what this will mean for his life, and her sister compares Rose to her mother, who also suffered from mental illness and committed suicide. They stop listening and therefore stop seeing Rose, leaving her alone to face her demons.
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