Smile; Disturbing Horror Film

Carle Johnson, Staff writer

 When the horror experiences of the 2010s are written, trauma metaphors will be associated with the decade in the same way that slasher movies are associated with the 1980s. And, despite being released on the eve of a new decade, the new Paramount wide-release horror film “Smile” fits right in with its PTSD-induced contemporaries. The difference here is that the monster is hardly a metaphor at all: the demon, or evil spirit, or whatever it is—the film is vague on this point—literally feeds on and tends to spread trauma. The vague something that follows Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) throughout “Smile” prefers the taste of people who have seen someone else die by suicide. Dr. Cotter meets Laura (Caitlin Stasey) in a hospital, a PhD student who is brought to Rose’s psychiatric emergency ward, shaking and terrified that something is out to get her. “It looks like people, but it’s not a person,” Laura says, trying to explain that this thing has been following her since she saw one of her professors bludgeon himself to death using a hammer four days before. Laura turns to Rose with a psychotic grin at the end of the film’s opening dialogue scene and proceeds to slit her own throat. This would bother anyone, but it bothers Rose especially because Rose’s mother committed suicide many years ago. The film’s most smart theme thread is the lingering trauma, as well as the fears and guilt that surround it: Rose’s fiance Trevor (Jessie T. Usher) admits to researching inherited mental illness online, and harsh terms like “nutjobs,” “crazies,” and “head cases” are used throughout the film to describe mentally ill people. Rose’s friends and family, including Trevor, her therapist Dr. Northcott (Robin Weigert), her boss Dr. Desai (Kal Penn), and her sister Holly (Gillian Zinzer), all seem to believe the problem is neurochemical rather than supernatural—until it’s too late. Joel (Kyle Gallner), a cop assigned to Laura’s case, is the only one who believes Rose. Their tentative reunion opens the door to the film’s mystery element, which accounts for much of the 115-minute run time. Rotten tomatoes rated this film with 79% tomatoes, and I cannot say I fully agree. I thought it was a decent film, just slightly disturbing at times but overall pretty good for being put in the horror genre and definitely meets the standards.