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’Smile’ review: Dir. Parker Finn (2022)

Traditionally, smiles are seen as the universal sign of happiness. Writer and director Parker Finn however, feels differently. Whereas everyone else perceives them as a friendly feature, Finn has seen something sinister within the facial expression. Now he’s ready to terrify audiences across the world and bring them around to his way of thinking with his feature debut, Smile. 

Sosie Bacon stars in Paramount Pictures’ “SMILE.”

An expansion and re-working of his short, Laura Hasn’t Slept, Smile is a darkly twisted tale that is set to unnerve all who watch it. The premise of the film is simple: people are stalked by a malevolent entity that torments its victims for days before finally moving in for the kill. During their suffering, the target is subject to wicked hallucinations, terrible tricks, and a barrage of faces eerily beaming at them. This fate is exactly that which the viewer experiences, Finn placing them firmly into the point of view of the latest target, Doctor Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon). 

Rose is a psychiatrist who works at her local hospital’s in-patient ward. Her long days are spent assessing those whose mental health might make them a risk to either themselves or others. It’s an emotionally demanding job, and one from which Rose cannot escape. The audience is introduced to her thirty hours into her shift. Here she’s called to deal with a regular admittance, a patient who seems only able to be calmed by her. This opening scene demonstrates Rose’s professionalism and caring nature. She is a master at handling her patient, but her dedication is about to be her undoing. On her way out of the door she is called in to assess a new patient, an erratic PHD student, Laura (Caitlyn Stasey star of Laura Hasn’t Slept). The young woman complains of an unseen presence stalking her before suddenly taking her own life. Rose is witness to the awful affair, but this is to be the least of the doctor’s ordeal…

This opening section of Smile perfectly sets up both the character of Rose and the tone of what is to follow. The interchange and interactions between Rose and Laura has formed the basis of the film’s marketing campaign. Considering how much this has been pushed, one could be forgiven for thinking that the impact would  be diluted. That shared sequence though is only a snippet of the horror hiding within. Their conversation plays out for much longer, Finn giving the scene time to build the right tension. Stasey is excellent in the role, immediately giving a chillingly desperate performance. Despite having only just been introduced to her, the audience immediately understands the gravity of the tortures that she has been subjected to. It’s important to listen to her words of warning as they provide the framework for the journey that Rose herself is about to undertake. 

At first believing her experiences to be the after effects of trauma, Rose initially belittles her condition. Quickly she realises that there is nothing typical about what is occurring. As she frantically tries to solve the problem and save herself, she is thrown into a maelstrom of anguish. The performance of Sosie Bacon is simply incredible. She plays Rose beautifully, delicately traversing the character’s inner turmoil and outward emotions. Even before falling into the clutches of the smiling presence, Rose is masking parts of herself. Having lost her mother to mental illness, when she was a child, her dedication to her work stems from a need to make up for being unable to help her mum. This pressure weighs heavily upon her mind, but her battle is lost on those around her. To her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher), she is calm and composed. For her employer (Kal Penn), she is one of the best workers. Her sister Holly (Gillain Zinser) views her simply as a workaholic. So even during early exchanges, Bacon is having to play Rose with an unspoken duality.

Kyle Gallner stars in Paramount Pictures Presents in Association with Paramount Players A Temple Hill Production “SMILE.”

As the story progresses, Rose’s mask slips and as the toll of her new horrifying experiences take hold, Bacon is pushed through the emotional wringer. Rose’s level of hysteria and fear are held high and Bacon manages to manage them impressively. Her performance will deservedly draw comparisons to that of Toni Collette in Hereditary. She effortlessly drags the viewer into Rose’s horrors, and once engaged, the audience is as trapped as Rose is. 

Bacon’s performance would be in vain were the landscape of Finn’s film not to be as rich in scares as it is. Finn constructs a toxic viewing environment. Smile is not a comfortable film to watch. The director infuses so much tension and trepidation into the piece that it becomes almost unbearable to sit in front of. The viewer, just like Rose, is constantly scanning for the next scare, and Finn is careful to make sure that no two are the same. Sometimes they come via some creeping slow panning camerawork, other moments from a well-timed jump-scare. Another moment has a penny drop to rival Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, and the combination of all of them leave nerves frayed. 

Finn also uses sound to his advantage. Rather than smother Smile in score, he keeps it stripped back. There’s no music here to warn you that something bad is going to happen. Instead, Finn allows the audience to ‘enjoy’ the silence with the lack of score screaming things are not safe. The lack of score doesn’t always signpost a scary sequence though, and this constant state of not knowing what is lurking around the corner will keep people on the edge of their seats. To sustain this amount of audience engagement for so long is a testament to Finn’s talent. With the film being almost two hours in length, it’s important that the audience continuously feel invested, and Finn’s work is remarkable. One could argue that there is a slight drop towards the end, a little audience fatigue creeping in, but on the whole Smile presents one of the more terrifying cinematic experiences of the year. 

Sosie Bacon stars in Paramount Pictures Presents in Association with Paramount Players A Temple Hill Production “SMILE.”

The classic chain letter horror story gets a fresh lease of life in Smile. Taking the best of The Ring, and It Follows, Finn works in some real world levity. Smile explores the power of trauma and how, once inside of you, it clings to you. Trauma never leaves, the host instead learning coping mechanisms to keep it under control. This is represented perfectly via Finn’s monster. It forever stalks its prey and once inside of them, turns their world upside down. With that in mind, there are times when Smile is rather mean-spirited and that is a positive. Studio horror films are often cleansed of malice, but not this one. The constant disquiet and apprehension leads to intense bouts of anxiety, and even once Smile has finished, these feelings are not fully resolved. 

With assured direction from Parker Finn and an electrifying performance by Sosie Bacon, Smile is the perfect way to begin the spooky season. Featuring stellar support from the talents of Kyle Gallner, Kal Penn, Gillian Zinser, and Jessie T. Usher, this horror is a cut above the rest. Made complete thanks to its intensity and constant threat of terror, Smile is going to scare people silly. Add to all this an excellently executed WTF moment, and at least one heart-stopping scare, this film has everything a horror fan could wish for. Smile will leave audiences with a wicked grin on their face, and a stomach full of anxiety riddled knots.


Kat Hughes



Parker Finn bursts onto the genre scene with a feature debut that promises nightmares to last the spooky season and beyond.


Smile arrives in UK cinemas on 28th September 2022. Smile is released on Digital HD on Tuesday 13th December. Smile will be released on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD on 26th December 2022.

Kat Hughes is a UK born film critic and interviewer who has a passion for horror films. An editor for THN, Kat is also a Rotten Tomatoes Approved Critic. She has bylines with Ghouls Magazine, Arrow Video, Film Stories, Certified Forgotten and FILMHOUNDS and has had essays published in home entertainment releases by Vinegar Syndrome and Second Sight. When not writing about horror, Kat hosts micro podcast Movies with Mummy along with her five-year-old daughter.


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