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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

‘Smile’ is the best horror movie of 2022

Paramount Players

The past few years have seen a number of blockbuster horror movies from “Prey to the Devil” to “Nope,” yet none have come close to what “Smile” offers. You might enter the theater with a smile on your face, but that surely won’t be the case as you exit permanently scarred for life.

After its release to movie theaters on Sept. 30, horror and thriller movie “Smile” gained immense popularity amongst audiences internationally and generated a cumulative $202.9 million only six weeks after its release date. These totals are shocking considering the film only took $17 million to produce. 

“Smile” is a masterpiece of unnerving cinematography and auditory cues, taking a generic trope and reworking it into a spine-chilling script that pays as much attention to the story as it does to the scares. 

The horror movie is director Parker Finn’s first full-length film after a career of mildly successful short films. The second of the short films, “Laura Hasn’t Slept,” served as both an inspiration and a jumping off point for “Smile.” In an interview with IndieWire, Finn said, “But while I was in post on that, there was something about it that kept lingering with me and this idea for this larger story started to emerge, and then this totally separate character story was born out of it.” With “Smile,” Finn hoped to create something that kept a middle ground between character-centric drama and “the stuff that makes audiences scream.”

The movie follows Dr. Rose Cotter, played by Sosie Bacon, who is a bedraggled therapist that witnesses one of her patients committing suicide. The patient, with a creepy smile plastered on her face as she dies, afflicts Rose with paranormal visions of people in her life wearing that same, unnerving smile. 

The directors of the movie intentionally created this metaphorical concept, taking something as basic as a smile and turning it from an expression seen as something pleasant to a sinister, emotionless appearance. This is done to represent how patients who suffer their whole lives from mental illnesses, are sometimes seen as invisible to people, even their loved ones. 

Cotter follows the history of other previous suicides related to the same phenomena in a paranormal investigation type situation, a subgenre rarely implemented well, but utilized to great effect by the directors of “Smile.” 

As for the scares, audio is used for great effect over visual cues. The sounds are not just loud to startle the viewer, but also lengthened to establish an atmosphere of dread. 

But the real genius of the movie comes with the focal point of fear: the smiling. 

Actors of the movie plaster terrifying wide grins that invoke no sense of happiness — their smiles are so twisted they are almost gruesome to view. The smiling is often used in tandem with silence, where long panning shots swivel slowly to reveal the grin. There is no noise or fanfare as the smile itself is enough to terrify the audience. 

Close watchers will notice little details, with some of the creepiest moments going unnoticed. Near the end of the movie, small “hidden”  smiles are seen in the shadows of hallways, subtle enough to make viewers think their eyes are playing tricks on them. A discarded envelope in the background reads “Last Chance.” Slightly off voice lines from characters indicating that they might not be who they seem.

“Smile” is a welcome change in the horror movie genre, boasting more well-written, thought out scripts over cheap gory flicks that only scare you in the moment. The greatest moments of the movie are not the scary ones, but the apprehensive parts in between as more and more of the story is revealed in shocking detail. 

“Smile” establishes an old, nostalgic kind of childhood fear. It is truly the kind of story that follows you home, trails after you upstairs and lurks in the dark corners of your room as you try to sleep.

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