Smile - Not the Joker movie

Caught a showing of Smile this evening, and it was really fun.

There’s no social commentary, and not really any novel horror stuff, just a well-made and well-executed horror film. This is another film like The Empty Man, that kind of shoves a bunch of horror tropes together and makes a fun and scary film out of them. Smile is better than The Empty Man, and scarier. There were definitely a couple of scenes that had me wringing my hands involuntarily.

What the script here is really good at is trimming the fat. The very first scene of the film is a slow pan that effectively tells a whole story without anyone saying a word. Scenes end at the point where you already know what’s going to happen next. The camera and editing work is exquisite (except for a couple of self-indulgent drone shots.)

Sosie Bacon (yes, she’s Kevin Bacon’s daughter) is really good here. The camera spends a whole bunch of time right in her face and she has no problem bearing the scrutiny, believably conveying her character’s state of mind.

I eagerly await how this film fits into the discussion in the thread on jump scares.

Really happy to hear this. Ever since I saw this trailer in front of Nope I’ve been eager to see this. Now I just need someone who likes scary movies to see it with!

Maybe I’ll do what I did for The Ring and go alone, sit alone, then after 20 minutes move to sit closer to a bunch of people because it was so goddamn scary.

Well that’s intriguing. The trailer looked extremely generic, but I did really like The Empty Man…

Smile is… interesting. It’s well-crafted, though it does have a few plot points and sequences that literally go nowhere. And I wasn’t a huge fan of how it ended; the entire movie does feel at times like a rehash of others, especially The Ring, and generally follows its own simple ruleset… but I ended up just feeling like it was a little pointless. Oh and it has the most unintentional homage to Barbarian I can imagine.

— Alan

Saw this tonight. I thought it was pretty well made, but had an overreliance on jump scares and ended kind of how I expected it to.

My over would be It Follows, and my over would also be The Ring.

I enjoyed this, although it probably could’ve stood to lose fifteen minutes.

Saw this today with my horror loving 16 year old daughter. We both really liked it. Great It Follows vibes.

I think communicable curse movies are my favorite genre of horror.

A big old “meh” from me. It’s obvious the director, cinematographer, and star are doing things to elevate the movie, but at its core, it’s still a “scary curse/smile entity gonna jump-scare ya” plot.

The only reason I want to see it is because it’s a huge hit.

Rats, I really disliked this. A lot, and not just for the jump scares, which were all editing cheats. I’d say they detracted from the creepiness. For instance, there’s a great scene when Sosie Bacon is in bed scared of a darkened doorway. As she rolls away from the doorway, the camera swings around until we can see what’s scaring her: it’s Smile, standing silently in the darkened doorway, looking super scary! It’s a great creepy scene, at night, silent, with Bacon’s back to the door and Smile standing there being scary and then – HOOOONK, cut to a screeching car honking its horn the next day.

Editing jump scare! And a great way to ruin a fantastically creepy scene and shatter the mood. But that’s par for the course in horror movies these days. Probably even studio mandated. For some directors, it seems like tension is nothing more than a boost for the next jump scare.

But I also disliked Smile for some of the reasons that @Matt_W liked it. For instance, Sosie Bacon in the lead. The template for this movie is clearly Japanese horror, and more specifically Gore Verbinski’s Americanized take from his adaptation of The Ring (some of the edits were obviously inspired by Verbinski’s (in)famous edit to the dead girl in the closet). This is an basically an Investigation Movie, which I feel needs a protagonist of at least Naomi Watts caliber, if not Jack Nicholson*. And while I enjoyed Sosie Bacon mainly for her resemblance to her mother – she’s totally Kyra Sedgwick Jr.! – and she certainly passed herself off as appropriately terrorized, I just don’t think she has the screen presence to carry this kind of movie.

For instance, contrast her to the young woman from the promos, with that insidious smile. That actress drives the horror early on, and she’s got the facial control to do it. As does the actor playing the disturbed man who gets possessed later on. I imagine they were cast partly for how scarily they could carry that rictus, how well they could hold it, how much they could commit to it. And it’s great casting, because the smile is the monster and the monster is the smile! What a concept, and used to great effect with those two actors! It reminded me a bit of Betty White’s scene in Get Out, or some of the really fun stuff James McAvoy did in Split. Letting an actor’s face do the work.

But what we know is going to happen – surely this isn’t a spoiler? – is that the other actors are going to be asked to do that same rictus, to express that same demonic possession, to compete with the same level of facial control we’ve seen so far. And when they do, they will be judged against the earlier instances we’ve seen. So when it comes time for Sosie Bacon and Kyle Gallner to pony up with their own smiles, well, it’s kind of the payoff the movie is setting up, right? And I should have warned Smile that I recently watched Pearl, which ends with Mia Goth doing some pretty darn horrific things with her face, and specifically her smile. If you’ve seen Pearl, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and how it’s the payoff of the movie. So what do you have for me, Sosie Bacon and Kyle Gallner?

Oh my.

So…is that it?

Hmm. Maybe try harder? Can you try to smile bigger maybe?

No, that’s all you can manage?

I see.

Maybe some CG could have helped, but I’m guessing the movie blew its CG budget on that one shot of the [spoiler redacted], which was pretty cool. I’m not sure what it was doing in this movie, but it was pretty cool.

Anyway, I don’t feel like Bacon could give the movie the lead it needed, and I certainly don’t feel that she was able to do the finale justice, and I’m not really looking forward to Kyle Gallner as the lead in Smile 2. And those are all pretty big drawbacks for me.

And I can’t agree with Matt’s take on the direction, either. There was nothing here that grabbed my eye or stood out for me or made me feel like I should remember the director’s name. Even that awesome bedroom shot with Smile standing in the dark doorway, which probably would have stood out for me if the director hadn’t undermined it with a blaring car horn and a jump scare edit. That does not seem to me like a director with much confidence.

On the whole, Smile felt like Paramount flailing around for it’s own Blumhouse success, pining for the days of Paranormal Activity box office returns with a young unproven filmmaker. And arguably finding them, but not with a movie I cared for. :(

\* The other alternative could have been a director as batshit wacky as Sam Raimi subjecting his ingenue to all sorts of horrors and indignities, as per Drag Me To Hell, but Smile doesn't go this route.

Wait. What?

Aw man, I can’t contradict your objections. I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen Sosie Bacon for her maniacal grin, but I did think she was up to the task of looking frightened and desperate and trying to act like the crazy stuff around her isn’t happening so that people don’t think she’s crazy.

As far as direction goes; maybe what I liked was the script. I really appreciate the way horror films often play out like short stories. They’re very economical with how they use the camera. I really liked that opening shot panning over family photos and drug/alcohol detritus, establishing setting and backstory without any narrative. And I liked how (I can’t remember specifics any more, but this was my impression) once it was inevitable how a scene would play out, the scene would just end. Don’t waste the viewers’ time showing us the inevitable. Example (I don’t remember if this was in this film or another): A woman pulls her car up to her house, notices the front door is ajar. Fade out to police cruisers parked out front and she’s just finished giving a statement. We don’t need to see the panicked call to 9-1-1, the police arrival and investigation, etc.

Regardless, my impression of the film as a good time was a purely emotional one: I was tensed up during the film, jumped and thrilled at the appropriate time, and left the theater with a big grin on my face.

Oops, that should be “Betty Gabriel”. But the same scene with Betty White would have been one heck of a thing!

EDIT: Here’s the scene I meant. Actors need to know how to control their faces, of course, but this is some next level stuff that Smile would have been lucky to have:

Oh, man! Now I want this.

Oh my golly, no, and I wouldn’t want you to feel like you had to! I’m jealous that you liked the movie. Believe me, Matt, you get the better deal here. :)

And that one big CG shot of Smile near the end was indeed awesome. It almost made me glad I saw the movie. I wish it had more of that kind of horror and less of Paramount going through the usual formula on the cheap.

Maybe not as CGI as you think :)

Polygon link

Like so many horror directors operating during the digital age of film, Finn felt it was particularly important to make his monster a physical artifact rather than a digital illustration.

“I grew up on practical effects,” he says. “It’s one of the reasons I wanted to become a filmmaker. I think that when something is practical, it just has more gravity to it. It has real weight and physics, and an actor can actually interact with it on set. It makes a big difference. Of course you can use VFX as a tool to help bring certain things to life, but the practical nature makes it real. And not only while you’re physically doing it in production, but I think for the audience as well.

“Unless you have a giant Marvel budget, I think people can always sniff out CGI. But hopefully instead, when they get to that moment in Smile, they’ll be asking themselves, What in the hell am I even looking at here? How is this possible?

The physical creature was a 9-foot-tall monstrosity that required a performer inside it and puppeteers to operate the gangly limbs, Finn says.

“I gotta tell you, when we set that up — that image I had drawn, that had been in my brain cooking for so long as a big logistical challenge, just, How are we gonna pull that off? — to finally be there and be shooting it was just absolutely surreal. The entire crew was gathered around to look at this 9-foot monster on set that is doing what it’s doing. It was just really special. It’s one of those pinch-me moments that’s like, We’re doing real movie magic here.”

Very cool! Thanks for that, Matt. I’m not sure if I wish they’d used the practical effect more, or if it was more powerful for that one full-length shot with Sosie Bacon kneeling. Probably the latter. And based on the snippet you quoted, I’m wondering if that image was the director’s starting point for the movie when he talks about how long it was cooking in his brain. In my opinion, it’s easily the most powerful thing in the movie.

Have you seen a movie called Amulet, from a few years ago, starring a couple of non-famous people and Imelda Staunton?

The finale is similarly relevant for some gobsmacking WTF imagery out of left field. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I’m of the opinion that you should. :)

I haven’t seen it, but now I definitely am going to!

I watched Amulet. For the first two-thirds I was on the fence about it, then the ending started happening and I didn’t like it. It spends all this time building up this dread, and getting us interested in these characters, and then it kind of throws it all away with some weird cgi and some odd editing choices. Like, I get what they were going for, and the story works (which certainly can’t be said for most horror movies), I just thought the way they put together the ending really didn’t work.