Every new year is always the worst year for horror movies. We are always willing to do so because it is such a subjective genre that no one ever agrees, so it is only through the passage of time that we can figure out if it was as bad as they painted it. ‘Smile’ is the debutant’s first film Parker Finnand it arrives in a year in which there have been all kinds of samples of fantasy and horror, but few that have been truly scary.
Perhaps the best sample in this aspect came in January, that month that nobody remembers in the lists of the best of the year. ‘La granny’ by Paco Plaza is full of sinister moments, very scenes dedicated to putting the viewer in a state of nerves and, in general, a final stretch delivered to the mechanisms of gender without barriers. But he also spent a lot of time putting his theme on the table, how we avoid old age and its consequences, loading adjacent aspects to a story that takes its time while displaying a large number of games of image and symbolism.
We’ve also had ‘Scream’ (2022) which is more of a whodunit full of blood, the zombie comedy ‘Malnazidos’ (2022), the grotesque slasher ‘X’ (2022) and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (2022), the coming of age ‘Black Phone’ (2022), ‘Nope!’ and his funneled killer monkey without lubricant in a sci-fi western, and the arthouse metaphor with kilos of body horror from ‘Men’ (2022), but somehow they all have a layer of wanting to play with the genre, variations and hybrids that are fun, well-directed, some with extraordinary imagery and some very important horror scenes. But this year… something was missing.
A witch train without pause
A feature film without a mask, which does not pretend to be anything other than a scary movie. Sometimes, now that genres are hybridizing, expanding and enriching, we forget that a basic cutlery with bread and butter is also needed on the table. Because the feeling of sitting in a dark movie theater for almost two hours to have a bad time having a good time is, after all, what attracted us to approach something that is classified as “terror”. Sometimes it’s just an aesthetic, sometimes a restlessness, sometimes a witch train-like experience.
And that’s ‘Smile’, an endless series of spooky scenes nicely interconnected that play with all kinds of resources and familiar elements with an impeccable finish. The starting point is a psychiatrist, played by a sensational Sosie Bacon, who has a brutal experience in a session with a patient who claims to see entities that others are unable to see. From there, a stormy journey unfolds for her, in which she begins to experience situations that may have something evil behind her, or be only in her head. A concept as simple as it is effective.
Don’t expect a convoluted plot or prying narrative knot, everything that happens on paper is inside a kind of commercial family studio horror film. In fact, you can remember many curse movies this century like ‘The Ring’ (2002) —although in reality its dynamic is much more similar to ‘The curse’ (Ju-On, 2002)—, and hits like ‘It Follows’ (2014), although its model is much more similar to origin of that one, ‘Kairo’ (2001), with the difference of all of them in its psychological aspect, which borrows, yes, more than a few details from ‘Hereditary’.
The scariest movie of the year
‘Smile’ could fall squarely into the category of female neurosis that critic Kier-La Janisse defined in her seminal volume ‘House of Psychotic Women‘, only cubed, rescuing the form of films from the 70s and 90s more common in auteur horror cinema that more independent production companies are now resurrecting. But this It’s not a period essay with endless soliloquies that wants to be Beckett like some work by Robert Eggers, but a playful big studio movie, with a lot of bad drool —watch out for that birthday party inspired by ‘Safe‘ (1995) by Todd Haynes—and a handful of surprises.
There is no lack of violence, moments of impact, gore, scares, generally prepared and orchestrated like the James Wan of his heyday, and even some ideas that would fit in the duo of ‘It’ (2017-2019) by Andy Muschietti. It is as if Parker Finn wants to take advantage of his opportunity and launch everything that gazpacho likes, however there is a well-constructed and well-written thread, where one situation leads to another organically, although he does not want to say anything especially ultimately. Also noteworthy is his direction, full of unusual color codes and omnipresent and elegant camera movements that always take the viewer’s attention where he wants.
‘Smile’ can be criticized as conventional, but it is very aware of what it is doing. Ella is the daughter of her time and does not pretend to be more than what it is: an adaptation of one of those youtube shorts that accumulate hundreds of visits and that usually turn into disappointing feature films. For once the short has grown into an extraordinary horror film, although deep down it seeks nothing more than to bring that essential experience of the goosebumps moment from the 5-minute format to a roller coaster dedicated to removing primary sensations. Look for the convoluted metaphors about the show elsewhere.