The All-Time Scariest: Smile

I’m on a hunt for the scariest movies of all time! I’ll be looking at films of any era, from any country, and then reviewing them based solely on how terrifying they are.

If you have a suggestion for a horror movie, please let me know on Twitter.

Please be advised, spoilers may lie ahead!!

Smile (2022)

Director: Parker Finn

Starring: Sosie Bacon, Kyle Gallner

We may have fallen short of our lofty goal to make at least one spooky post for every weekday leading up to Halloween, but that doesn’t mean the frights have to finish come November.

And this time, we come correct with a scary movie that actually tries to be scary! Enough tricks, hopefully this time we’re in for a treat

Smile centres around the plight of psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter. One day, an encounter with a patient admitted to the psych ward takes an awful turn when the afflicted claims that she is being pursued by some kind of grinning monster.

The patient suddenly fills the room with a shriek! And then proceeds to violently commit suicide in front of the horrified doctor, an unnatural smirk crossing her face the whole way.

Now, it is Rose’s turn to be stalked at every turn. Can she find a way to break free from the curse? Or will her life end with a sinister smile? Christ, either way, someone should pay me to write the damned blurbs.

The premise is one that we’ve seen time and time again, whether it’s 2014’s It Follows, Ringu and its sequels, or to a lesser degree, the Blumhouse flick, Truth or Dare — the latter of which also included a range of ghastly grimaces.

Paramount Players

It makes for a solid narrative anyway, providing a limited amount of time to unravel the truth behind the protagonist’s plight. With that said, Smile did dabble a bit too much in the MC punishment realm, crossing the line from scary to unpleasant with excessive torture for a person who doesn’t deserve it.

Let’s just say, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the Cinema Cats coverage.

The film benefits from sensible storytelling, largely absent of mind boggling character choices that take you out of the moment. Rose makes for a sympathetic figure, even keeled and proactive in her journey while the world around her views her as increasingly unhinged.

Yes, the mental health allegory will be applied liberally. And yet, we’re led to believe that she would be permitted to return to work the very next day after witnessing someone kill themselves. An exception to the sensible character choices, obviously.

Smile’s calling card is of course the eponymous facial expression, allowing for some deception through the use of pulled camera angles. Is this another assailant, or just a friendly face? It does create suspense, and yet, I could see most of the incoming scares from a mile away.

The ‘boo’ moments are all really well done, to the point of becoming predictable; offering pristine examples of how a jump scare should work. This lack of mayhem renders the movie largely ineffectual for even mid-level horror buffs like myself.

By the time it reaches its gruesome crescendo, you’re left feeling gorged, but not satisfied. It’s horror movie junk food, albeit the kind that is lovingly prepared.

The only aspect that takes some risks is in its soundscape, with its uneven, unfriendly tones. Had the entire movie been so bold, we could have really been onto something here.

Paramount Players

Trying to decide where Smile sits in this ranking becomes something of a self-analysis. Was I ever chilled, or filled with a sense of dread? Not especially, no. The movie failed to catch me off-guard, with even its most lavish visual effects coming across as more impressive than daunting.

Several critics have described it as being a ‘slow burn’, and yet, I believe the inverse to be true. I would have liked to have gotten to know Rose better beforehand, explore her world a little bit in an effort to show how much this curse has impacted it.

Right from the start, we’re confronted with the premise, and everything afterwards must operate in service of this. Exposition between characters fleshes out the details hereafter, but why are we so impatient in allowing audiences to ease in?

Somehow, my mind keeps returning to Jordan Peele’s Nope, the sci-fi horror from earlier this year, which would incidentally form the basis for my very first entry in The All-Time Scariest.

Whereas I felt that film did more with monsters and notions that carried less natural impact, Smile has access to the cheapest, most visceral thrills, parading them around with a vibe of ‘ooh, isn’t this scary? Aren’t you ever so scared?’

At the core of this, I’m left asking, what is scarier? Scary things that are less scary than the not-so-scary things? I can’t, in good faith, anoint it as such, grounding Smile to a threshold that it really should have surpassed.

Final Verdict

Score: 1 paw print out of 5

Smile is a film that will do the rounds with much pomp and bluster, liberally dishing out formulaic frights to evoke wails from the casual audience member.

If you’re into this kind of paint-by-numbers product, you can get a lot of mileage out of it. For me, its ultimate destination is to be shelved in my memory, put aside as a curio of what horror cinema represented at that point in time.

Harsh criticism? Oh, absolutely. But I didn’t start this column to play nice. I’m after exactly what it says on the tin: ‘the all-time scariest’. If you want to play with such low stakes, you’d best be prepared to be rewarded in equal measure.

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