The Disturbing Debut of Parker Finn Smile turns a sympathetic gesture into a threat. A smile — warm and inviting in nature — masks deeper, more disturbing intentions in this harrowing film about a demonic spirit clinging to the traumas of its victims. The adage about grinning through hard times here takes on a sinister tone.
dr. Rose Cutter (Sosie Bacon), a sympathetic clinical psychiatrist, knows nothing about this when she meets Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey), a college graduate who recently witnessed a horrific suicide. The two meet in an examination room of the strangely homey ER psychiatric wing. (The walls of the hallway are painted bubblegum pink; the exam room has accents of blue and yellow.) As they sit down to speak, Laura hastily recounts how her professor clubbed himself to death in front of her, the terrifying smile she sees on her faces. strangers and loved ones, the sinking feeling that she will soon die.
It comes down to
A disturbing experience.
Rose nods in understanding in response to this information, but it’s clear to Laura that the doctor isn’t listening. She diagnoses, seeks professional language to rationalize her new patient’s palpable fear. Suddenly, Laura is muted by an unseen entity. The frenzied atmosphere evoked by the young woman’s pleas gives way to an unsettling silence. Laura takes a shard from a broken ceramic vase and cuts open her flesh. The camera (the DP is Charlie Sarroff) doesn’t shy away from this suicide, which is accompanied by Rose’s bloodcurdling screams; it moves inward and steadily meditates on the torn skin.
Smile is filled with grim scenes like this one, nerve-racking sequences that settle into your psyche as you follow Rose’s panicky and at times arduous adventure. The film, which operates in the same supernatural and psychic traditions as The ring, enjoy making terrifying murders and creating a menacing mood. Lester Cohen’s production design, characterized by calculated austerity, builds serene scenes just waiting to be disturbed. Meanwhile, Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s score sneaks through the story, adding depth to the already horrific bodily sounds – teeth gnawing at nails, labored breathing, breaking bones.
When Rose begins to experience the same hallucinations as Laura, she attributes it to exhaustion and trauma from the past. She’s always been good at dividing her life into boxes and relegating painful memories to the back of her mind. But the more she sees the angular smile (plastered all over the film’s promotional material), the harder it becomes to ignore what’s happening to her.
Finn and Sarroff portray Rose’s heightened mental state and increasing insecurity with an erratic imagery. Upside-down shots, quick flashes that translate as tricks of the eye, and a penchant for close-ups put us firmly in Rose’s perspective. Never letting go of fear, the film uses the stomach-cramping, heart-wrenching sense of a fearful spiral to sustain viewers.
Smile‘s screenplay, which Finn wrote, portrays Rose confidently, but does not demonstrate the same certainty when it comes to other characters such as her fiancé, Trevor (Jesse T. Usher). The gallery of supporting figures struggles to shake off its utilitarian impression. Then there’s the reliance on pop psychology—lines that seem straight out of a social media post that diagnoses banal habits as trauma reactions—which makes the scenes between Rose and her patients or Rose and her own therapist (Robin Weigert) feel incredible.
Some of these tricks can be ignored as Rose becomes increasingly desperate. Bacon deftly transforms the character before our eyes: the once-balanced and cold-blooded doctor unravels as the gravity of her situation sinks in. She tries to explain her experience to Trevor and her sister, Holly (Gillian Zinser), and tries to get a prescription for anxiety medication from her therapist, who feeds her platitudes about the nature of trauma.
The only person Rose realizes she can confide in is her ex-boyfriend, Joel (Kyle Gallner), a police officer who also happens to be the only person she’s ever felt vulnerable with. The duo tag team an ad hoc investigation into the reason for these visions, trying to find out if anyone ever survived being possessed by this fuzzy, trauma-feeding ghost. Their journey makes up most of the second act, which sags and slacks an otherwise tight narrative.
For all his wandering in predictable territory, Smile could easily have been thrown into the pile of contemporary work examining trauma; clichés about hurting people hurting others and healing your inner child sometimes claw their way to the center here. But the film also teases a much more interesting truth about how far people will go to distance themselves from mental disorders or perceived instability.
Rose, like Laura before her, insists she’s not crazy. She rejects the loaded term, which, along with its metonyms, is thrown around a number of times. But when she tries to confide in her loved ones, they avoid her reality and instead try to put familiar labels on her experience. Her boss (Kal Penn) spits out pithy statements about mental health and employee happiness, her fiancé vehemently wonders what this will mean for his life, and her sister compares Rose to their mother, who also suffered from mental illness and committed suicide. . They stop listening and therefore don’t see Rose anymore – leaving her to face her demons alone.