‘Smile’ Unleashes a Trauma Demon in Franchise Starter [Review]

An unexpected hit in theaters earlier this year, Smile has come home on 4K, unleashing a new kind of monster that wears people like a Halloween costume in what is most definitely the beginning of a new horror franchise.

Sosie Bacon stars as Dr. Rose Cotter, who witnesses the bizarre suicide of one of her patients, and then starts experiencing frightening events that she can’t explain, seeing strangers staring at her with a sinister smile, which her patient had also described seeing.

Smile borrows some of the best elements of It Follows, but gives the threat more of a backstory, albeit ever so slightly hinted at, teasing an easy – and obviously planned – launch of a new franchise with its own fresh mythology set up to be explored in inevitable future sequels. There is also an echo of The Ring here, as no one has survived more than a week after first seeing the mysterious smile.

In a fun bit of irony, the film effectively turns what should be an immediate sign of kindness into a deadly threat, as it is precisely a wide, blank smile in the middle of a seemingly otherwise normal situation that signals that the film’s true big bad is near. Also, how many smiley faces can you spot on screen during the nearly two-hour runtime? (Hint: There are a lot.)

The climax is wild and original, a visual feast to behold, as the real face hiding behind the human “masks” is revealed, and our hero, Dr. Cotter, must face her own dark past, the death of her mother that still haunts her.

The film is written and directed by Parker Finn, inspired by his 2020 short film Laura Hasn’t Slept, which is included among the 4K’s extras with an introduction by Finn. The 4K set also includes a full feature commentary track by Finn.

In his commentary, Finn explains that he always envisioned the camera acting as the entity itself, inviting the audience to watch as it stalks Rose. That entity, by the way, in its most disturbing and unforgettable form was lovingly referred to on set as “Lollipop.”

I love that the opening of the film has Caitlin Stasey again playing Laura, the character she originated in the Laura Hasn’t Slept short, in a scene that mirrors the original short but has a drastically different final shock. Stasey is magnetic as Laura, quickly setting the tone and telling us everything we need to know about this threat, and gaining our sympathy even in her frantic state.

None of the smiles were CG enhanced, and Finn says in his commentary that he always knew he did not want to digitally change them, as it would make them less creepy than using each actors’ unique actual smile.

While most of the film plays like drama, when the horror comes, it is spiked with some amazing practical effects and gore by makeup designer and special effects artist Tom Woodruff Jr. (It, The Monster Squad, Pumpkinhead) and his team.

The 4K set that we were provided comes in a slipcase featuring the same art as the main cover, and it includes a Digital code.

Additional bonus features include the 29-minute documentary Something’s Wrong with Rose: Making Smile, with behind the scenes footage and interviews with all the primary cast, crew, and director; as well as the nine-minute featurette Flies on the Wall: Inside the Score, with composer Cristobal Tapia De Veer showing off the unusual instruments and methods he used to create his haunting soundtrack.

There are also two deleted scenes – a 10-minute panic attack episode that includes an especially effective scene in a bathroom stall, and a two-minute conversation that deepens the relationship between Rose and her ex, Joel, a detective played by Kyle Gallner. Both deleted scenes include optional commentary by director Parker Finn.

Ultimately, it is all about the masks we wear as humans, with everybody in the film wearing masks disguising their interior traumas.

The idea of taking something as eternally normal as a smile and twisting it into something terrifying is deceptively simple, and yet it seems the time is ripe for this new breed of masked killer, hiding in plain sight with a slowly widening grin.

Smile is available now to watch on Digital and own on 4K Ultra HD, as well as Blu-ray and DVD, from Paramount Home Entertainment.

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Matt Artz

Founded Halloween Daily News in 2012 and the Halloween International Film Festival in 2016. Professional writer/journalist/photographer since 2000.