Smile Review: This Super Twisted Jaw-Clincher Is Another 2022 Horror Win

What’s behind this smile?

Caitlin Stasey in Smile
(Image: © Paramount Pictures)

A smile is an expression that’s all around us constantly, and is supposed to be reassuring: a symbol of happiness. But, sometimes there’s harm in a smile. It can serve as a mask for different feelings going on behind it. Or in the instance of the new horror movie, Smile, it can be the last thing you see before becoming enveloped by something of great darkness. And, once you walk out of writer/director Parker Finn’s seriously ruthless and chilling debut, you might be double taking the grins of passerbys for something a lot more crooked than comforting. 

Ahead of prime horror movie season even beginning, it’s been a massively good year for the genre. Between the return of Jordan Peele for Nope, the unique social commentaries of Fresh and Bodies Bodies Bodies, Ti West’s chilling pair of films X and Pearl, and the return of Scream and Orphan franchises, 2022 has been big. That winning streak continues with Smile, which begins with psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) watches one of her patients kill herself with a massive smile on her face after previously babbling about the unexplainable, unsettling things she’s seen in the past few days. Following the traumatic incident, Rose begins being haunted by terrors she was once warned about. 

Despite some formulaic tendencies, Smile goes hardcore with its horror. 

What many surely imagined would be a more “fun,” absurd horror concept is not what Smile turns out to be. Instead, the movie is an impressive brew of jump-scare horrors of the early 00s and Ari Aster’s Hereditary. Yes, Smile is an incredibly enjoyable watch, but throughout there’s a merciless tone that will not let the tension break. You’ll need to take a moment to unclench your jaw after this one. 

If you’re a horror fan, you’ve seen something like Smile play out in a movie before, but Parker Finn demonstrates a firm grip on popular genre story devices in an effective way that drains the audience of ease, and it sets the film apart.

While movies with a ton of jump scares have been less popular these days in the horror resurgence, Smile goes for them in some memorable and twisted ways. There are multiple moments in the movie where you know a jump scare is waiting for you, but it feels like Smile always has the upper hand and waits an extra beat to make sure it truly gets you. 

The jump scares work so well because Smile is all about the mind tricks that the evil entity executes. The scares play directly into the plot, and while it’s tapping into how fun it is to jump out of one’s seat in a horror movie, the scares crawl under your skin too. The movie as a whole uses its horror elements to shake the viewer up so much that you’re all tensed up for its even more gruesome, unnerving and moving finale. And the imagery Smile leaves you with is prime nightmare fuel. 

Writer/director Parker Finn’s allegory delivers with a devious grin. 

Smile’s scares are not simply in the knee-jerk physical reactions it can inspire, as there is also a layered story that can serve as a discussion for the horrors of family trauma and how it creates unfortunate cycles – especially when it comes to mental health struggles. You can certainly choose to take Smile at face value, but those looking to dig into the deeper commentary of the movie can find a lot to unpack. 

As a society, we don’t talk enough about how damaging smiles can be and how they can actually cover up a lot more complex emotions happening under the surface. The ignorance of this leads to a lot of prevalent issues, including suicide (the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S.) The movie examines this in a thought-provoking way by flipping our expectation that a smile is always a good sign by attaching them to the villain of the film. The social commentary at the center of Smile is not only clever, but the concepts are handled with a boldness that doesn't hit on the idea so hard that the horror movie on the surface falters.

Sosie Bacon’s lead performance ties together Smile best. 

Smile could have easily fallen apart if we don’t believe its leading character. Thankfully Sosie Bacon gives a compelling performance as Rose, an introverted psychiatrist who deeply cares about helping others and is haunted by a childhood trauma. Thanks to the movie’s solid script, you really believe why Rose is who she is and the decisions she makes amidst all of the terror that surrounds her. Kyle Gallner is additionally a great right hand to Bacon, playing a police officer who has a past with Rose. 

As Smile builds to its final sequences, the movie has audiences fully rooting for the two and for most importantly, for Rose’s haunting to end without another creepy grin. Parker Finn’s debut not only makes for a strong start to his filmmaking career, but yet another entry into 2022’s rich list of horror wins. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.