Put on a Happy Face

Directed by Parker Finn

Starring Sosie Bacon, Kyle Gallner, Kal Penn

Released September 30th, 2022

Rated R

There’s nothing quite like the terror of being cursed with impending death. Knowing the grim reaper has your number has been explored in many horror stories over the years, notably in Truth or Dare, It Follows, and the Final Destination franchise. Trying to break the curse is easier said than done and usually doesn’t work out for the protagonist (see Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell). 

In Smile, we meet Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), a therapist who becomes ensnared in a strange supernatural hell wherein smiling persons around her kill themselves. The smiles are creepy. The suicides are gory. The questions are many. It seems that if you witness one of these smiling suicides, tag, you’re it. Next thing you know you’ll be smiling wide and slicing your wrists or throat. The curse, coupled with glimpses of victim’s mutilated faces and many moody tracking shots that start upside down before going right side up, make the film most reminiscent of 2002’s The Ring, director Gore Verbinski’s American remake of the Japanese film Ringu

I’m not sure how something so derivative can work so well, but Smile is nothing if not effective. The jump scares are plentiful, the creep factor large, and the mood is tense all the way through. The most impressive element of Smile is the realistic reaction everyone has when Rose reaches out to them for help with the curse. Nobody believes her. And if this really happened, nobody would! You wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. She’d be on her own, as she is in the movie. 

As Rose, Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon) gives a performance that telegraphs she’s capable of more depth than is required for a movie of this ilk. Kyle Gallner plays a police detective / Rose’s ex-boyfriend who helps her put plot pieces together even though he doesn’t really grasp what’s going on. It’s nice to see horror veteran Gallner in a grownup role. It’s also always a welcome sight when Kal Penn shows up in a film, and I wish his character Dr. Desai had more to do. Hey, my grandmother used to have a Dr. named Desai. Now that feels creepy. Thanks, Smile

I’m not sure why Lollipop by The Chordettes plays over the end credits. It’s a goofy choice for a film that has such a bleak look at the effects of childhood trauma. Based on his short film Laura Hasn’t Slept, this is the feature film debut of writer / director Parker Finn. The working title, which I much prefer to Smilewas There’s Something Wrong with Rose.