Stephen King himself has praised the ability to put fear into the body of this ‘Smile’ that today reaches Spanish cinemas, and it is not difficult to understand: its concept, simple and direct, its smooth metaphorical patina and its recognizable setting make it an uncomplicated horror bet but with a touch of sophistication. ‘Smile’ isn’t going to change the history of the genre, but it’s been a long time since a horror movie with such memorable direct, simple and shocking scares hit theaters.
Possibly, its secret is that without unnecessarily complicating itself and without entering the terrain of a more independent and symbolic horror, such as that of the films of Ari Aster or Robert Eggers, ‘Smile’ is very aware of what keys it is pressing. In other words, it doesn’t want to be sophisticated terror for independent festivals, but it goes one step further than a mere carousel of scares at the blow of a pachu on the soundtrack.
‘Smile’ tells how, after witnessing a strange and violent incident that affects a patient, a psychologist begins to experience visions terrifying, that distance her from reality and that confront her with known and unknown people displaying disturbing smiles. She will have to face her past and find out what strange curse or contagion is closing in around her.
As you can see, there isn’t much in ‘Smile’ that we haven’t seen before: the idea of the deadly curse/contagion/virus being transmitted between people close to the protagonist has been around since the days of ‘The Ring’ and other movies of j-horror in his wake. But if there is a recent film to which ‘Smile’ unequivocally refers, it is ‘It Follows’, one of the first productions that kicked off a more independent and thoughtful recent terror, albeit drawing on previous successes such as ‘The Invasion of the ultrabodies’.
However, the reference to Japanese terror is not accidental, because the film is also very clearly inspired by another icon of that country: Junji Ito, the mangaka author of graphic horror milestones such as ‘Uzumaki’ or ‘Tomie’. Of the, ‘Smile’ takes on a certain way of unsettling with ghostly and surreal images not without humorsuch as very specific scares throughout the footage, the very use of the smile as a trigger for fear or the entire final section, full of shots that overflow that sensitivity for the macabre and surreal of the master of Japanese comics.
A perfect middle ground
However, ‘Smile’ does not launch into a display of dreamlike and disturbing surrealism like the best works of Junji Ito. Parker Finn’s film, debuting in the feature film that is inspired by his own short ‘Laura Has n’t Slept’, is in a curious middle ground between the most mainstream, in the style of ghost and haunted house movies produced by James Wan, such as ‘Insidious’, and the aforementioned indie horror movies in the style of the aforementioned ‘It Follows’. In that peculiar intermediate point he finds a very interesting point of his own style.
Finn shows that he is capable of making a commercial horror film that is not afraid of a certain daring in the formal, hence the foolishness with the most surreal images or the wonderful incarnation of Sosie Bacon as the protagonist, more dedicated and emotional than usual in commercial horror film Also the script notes that give clues about the relationship between a traumatic past and a horrible present They are a good example that Finn has made a scary movie for multiplexes, yes, but one that has a disturbing and careful background.
‘Smile’ is a safe bet for fans of horror movies in the witch train format: one scare after another, from the most tricky ones with editing and sound tricks included, to the disturbing aspect of “a darkened corner where it seems that there is texture.” Strong emotions and Machiavellian smiles for a film that is not afraid to stick its head into very dark areas of the collective unconscious.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism