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[Fantastic Fest ’22] ‘Smile’ review: Loud scares propel the new face of horror

The world smiles with you.

The opening film of this year’s Fantastic Fest was the world premiere of Smile. Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon, 13 Reasons Why) is witness to a bizarre incident involving a patient. She soon begins experiencing unexplainable incidents that begin to take over her life. She thinks she understands what is happening, but what she cannot figure out is why so many people are smiling.

When your horror movie is named after a physical feature, chances are there will be plenty of visual scares. Smile has no shortage of them, but it is the sound design that carries the film. From eerie music that almost seems out of place to loud sudden bangs and yells that go beyond what is normally found in the genre, there is a little bit of everything. 

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This helps to contribute to a creepy atmosphere that the plot sometimes has trouble conveying. There are themes about the past and how people are perceived that the film has a tendency to barely touch on before doing a deep exploration. This happens throughout the film. This erratic storytelling is not a dealbreaker, but it does make Smile feel like a run of the mill horror movie at times.

Even when its main issues are tackled head on, director Parker Finn tends to lose the thread. This is most obvious in the finale which gets a little too twisting and clever for its own good. Oddly, this may be a product of the strong writing. Smile is great at delivering twists; it just gets a little too dependent on them in the final moments.

The sound may do most of the heavy lifting in Smile, but that camerawork is also great. Many shots are shot at odd angles or a little askew. There are even some scenes that are literally upside down. These shots mimic the trauma that Rose is going through and brings more immersion. Whenever a movie delivers an amazing trailer, audiences immediately begin to wonder if it can actually deliver. This was certainly the case with Smile which may well end up with the creepiest teaser of the year. By relying on sound and adding occasional jump scares, the movie meets expectations.

Fantastic Fest takes place from September 22- 29

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