2022 has been a great year for horror films, including a few unexpected gems.  “Smile” is another welcomed surprise that will send chills down your spine.

“Smile” is the impressive feature debut of writer/director Parker Finn.  From the opening moments, we know we’re in for a treat.  We’re first introduced to Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), a workaholic doctor in the hospital’s psychiatric wing.  As a young child, she discovered her mom dead from an intentional overdose.  This trauma led her to work in the field she does, with the hope that she could help others, and find some sort of redemption herself.  Before the title card is shown, she experiences another horrific suicide that she is unable to prevent.  This event is incredibly disconcerting due to an exceptional performance by Caitlin Stasey.   It’s one thing to write or show something creepy, but when a performance makes you absolutely believe what they are saying, it takes the chills to another level.

Experiencing this suicide attaches an entity to Rose, one that taunts her by wearing the visages of other people but with an unnerving smile.  The taunting begins immediately but is relatively benign.  Rose will see her dead patient in different places, but they quickly vanish.  Is her mind playing tricks on her?  Her fiance, Trevor (Jessie T. Usher), knows something is wrong but tries to be as supportive and understanding as possible.  Rose’s sister, Holly (Gillian Zinser), would rather she just put on a happy face and move on, instead of wallowing in past trauma.  Her employer (Kal Penn)  recommends a paid week of leave.  All around her, people can see Rose is suffering, but none know how to really offer her what she needs.  Over the next few days, Rose begins to feel more isolated as the entity increases the intensity of its harassment.

It’s easy to draw comparisons to the plot of similar films.  “The Ring” and “It Follows” come immediately to mind.  Once you see “the smile” you have only 4-7 days left to live, before committing suicide and passing the entity on to someone else.  “Smile” is also reminiscent of “The Babadook” which also represented mental illness as a monster.  In the “Babadook” it was depression, but here it is trauma.  The metaphor actually works as well, if not better in “Smile” as trauma has a way of not just impacting the victim’s life, but creating dysfunctional relationships with those they are closest to.  It can become a vicious cycle.

“Smile” has excellent performances, a sharp script, and brilliant direction.  Further elevating this is an incredibly unnerving soundtrack.  More a collection of sounds than actual music, it manipulates the audience just as much as the other elements.  This combination puts everyone on edge, all of the time.  We’re experiencing the horror right along with Rose.  This allows the film to have some of the best jump-scares we’ve seen in a long time.  Even moments where we know a jumpscare is coming, what actually happens is still able to catch us off guard.

Paramount had originally slated this film to debut on their streaming channel.  However, after overwhelmingly positive test screenings, they opted for a theatrical release.  (A fate that should have been shared by “PREY”)  “Smile” deserves to be seen in the theater, and if you are a horror fan it deserves your support as well.