Smile Reviews Are In, Check Out What Critics Are Saying About The Creepy New Horror Movie

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

When you hear the title of the movie Smile, you likely wouldn’t jump to presume that’s describing a psychological horror. But pair that title with any of the film’s promotional material, or at the end of the creepy-as-hell trailer, and the word starts to sound a lot more menacing. How is it possible to make a grinning person seem so threatening? Smile, from Paramount Pictures, is based on Parker Finn’s 2020 short film Laura Hasn’t Slept, and the reviews are here to tell us how well the director translated his vision into a feature-length film.

Smile stars Sosie Bacon as Dr. Rose Cotter, who starts to see strange things happening after she witnesses a traumatic incident involving one of her patients. The film also stars Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn and Rob Morgan. While we know that “once you see it, it’s too late,” and baseball fans will never be the same after the movie’s wild marketing scheme, let’s let the critics weigh in on whether or not we should be planning a trip to the theater this weekend. 

We’ll start with CinemaBlend’s review of Smile, with Sarah El-Mahmoud rating the horror flick 4 out of 5 stars. Parker Finn’s debut is “seriously ruthless and chilling,” despite some formulaic tendencies. She writes: 

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.

Tasha Robinson of Polygon says Parker Finn has a way of telegraphing what’s about to happen, but in a way that seems intentional and doesn’t detract from the onslaught of jump scares and true scares. In the critic’s words: 

Smile is often a gimmicky, even corny horror movie, packed with so many jump-scares that the sheer pile-on borders on laughable. Finn uses abrupt, loud sound cues and brutally rapid cuts to get viewers yelping and flinching over things as mundane as Rose biting into a hamburger, or tearing off a hangnail. But no matter how excessively the legitimate scares pile up, they’re startling and convincing. The editing and music are impressively tuned for maximum impact whenever the slow-burning tension resolves with an abrupt, ugly surprise. All of which makes Smile an efficient ride, if an unusually unrelenting one.

Marisa Mirabal of IndieWire gives the movie a grade of B-, pointing out that Smile takes other horror movies about contagious death, like The Ring or It Follows, and adds in the ripple effect that trauma or depression can have. It gives the phrase, “Smile through the pain,” new context, this review says: 

Smile navigates unhealed trauma through a supernatural lens and mischievous juxtaposition, despite feeling like a shadow of other stories. With rare moments of dark comedy and irony, he is able to expose the forceful nature of society’s expectation to be happy and presentable despite the suffering that may lurk under one’s skin. Overall, Smile delivers a captivating and claustrophobic mental hellscape that will cause one to both grimace and grin.

Alan Cerny of Vital Thrills scores Smile a 7 out of 10, saying that like some of the best horror films, this one dives into psychological fear and trauma. Sosie Bacon is up to the task of giving the audience a heroine to root for, according to the critic: 

Some will [explore trauma] effectively, some won’t. Smile does it effectively. Some of it gets derivative, but that’s the nature of the genre – what good is the jump scare if we don’t laugh a little at it afterwards? That’s part of the fun. I did admire how bleak the film gets in the third act – Parker Finn seems to enjoy throwing us into a deep hole and filling it up with dirt, seeing if we can scramble our way out, and for that to work you have to give us a protagonist we care about, and Bacon does that very well.

The movie doesn’t work for everybody, however. Katie Rife of rates the film 2.5 stars. The critic’s issues with the movie are mentioned in other reviews as well but made for an overall less satisfactory experience for this writer, who says: 

In padding out the concept from an 11-minute short into a nearly two-hour movie, Smile leans too heavily not only on formulaic mystery plotting, but also on horror themes and imagery lifted from popular hits like The Ring and It Follows. David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 film is an especially prominent, let’s say, influence on Smile, which, combined with its placement on the ‘it’s really about trauma’ continuum, make this a less bracing movie experience than it might have been had it broken the mold more aggressively.

If Smile sounds like your cup of tea, you can catch it in theaters starting on Friday, September 30, and after that, take a peek at some other upcoming horror movies. Either way, be sure to check out our 2022 Movie Release Schedule to start planning your next trip to the theater. 

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.