Smile, by Albert W. Vogt III

What a waste of two hours.  What a terrible assemblage of moving pictures and dialog.  What an unoriginal concept.  How could anyone spend the money and time in developing a film like Smile (2022).  The weekend it came out I reviewed Hocus Pocus 2 (2022).  I am not sure which is worse.  If forced to choose, I would say Smile.  At least Hocus Pocus 2 had a happy ending.  With Smile, and others of its ilk, we are left with evil continuing in the world unchecked.  Why did I break my usual rule of not seeing horror films?  Because one of you made a suggestion to me on social media.  I like to honor such things, with limitations.  At the same time, know that this was not a fun watch for me.

The lack of cheer is ironic given a title like Smile, and it kicks off right away with a dead body.  This is the mother (Dora Kiss) of little ten-year-old Rose Cotter (Meghan Brown), who finds mom shortly after passing away from a drug overdose.  We then jump ahead several years and Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is now a mental health therapist for a trauma unit at a hospital.  She is about to leave after another trying day when she gets a call about a new patient.  This is Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey), a PhD candidate who is having a nervous breakdown.  In their brief discussion, Laura reveals to Dr. Cotter that she is seeing an entity that takes the guise of many people around her, and it is always smiling.  What Dr. Cotter takes as hallucinations started shortly after Laura saw her professor commit suicide in front of his student.  Laura then begins screaming and Dr. Cotter tries to get nurses to the room.  Before they can arrive, turning around Dr. Cotter sees Laura, with an unhealthy grin on her face, slash her own throat from ear-to-ear.  Taking away the supernatural theme to the movie for a moment, this would be an awful act to witness under any circumstance.  Dr. Cotter is visibly shaken by the occurrence, though her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher) somewhat calms her when he returns home that evening.  Nonetheless, her preoccupation continues through their planned double date with Dr. Cotter’s sister Holly (Gillian Zinser).  It is fueled by the fact that she is seeing things that are not there, particularly Laura’s smiling visage.  As a mental health professional, Dr. Cotter attempts to self-diagnose herself, believing it to be merely stress induced.  Unfortunately, the next day at work brings her to one of her regular patients, Carl Renken (Jack Sochet).  Passing his room, she finds him with the same facial affectation as Laura.  This spirals into him shouting at her, and her calling for him to be sedated, only to find it is a figment of her imagination.  This episode leads to her boss, Dr. Morgan Desai (Kal Penn), to order her to take a leave of absence in order to reduce the strains her work has been putting on her.  Dr. Cotter uses this time in a couple of ways.  First, she goes to see her own therapist, Dr. Madeline Northcott (Robin Weigert).  Dr. Cotter is looking for pills to deal with her delusions, but Dr. Northcott sees this as something else.  That something else is residual guilt on Dr. Cotter’s part stemming from the death of her mother.  Another activity is to attend her nephew’s birthday.  She is not safe here, either.  When he opens the gift, he finds Dr. Cotter’s dead cat instead of the toy train proclaimed on the box.  This leads to an episode that ends with Dr. Cotter falling backwards onto a glass coffee table and cutting her arms in several places.  It is at this point that she begins to believe herself to be cursed.  At the same time, nobody will believe her.  This includes Dr. Northcott, Holly, and Trevor.  The one who is willing to entertain these seemingly wild notions is Dr. Cotter’s ex-boyfriend Joel (Kyle Gallner).  As a police detective, he is able to help Dr. Cotter obtain information on the death of Laura’s professor.  What emerges are a string of suicides.  Each one is witnessed by somebody, and that witness later ends up killing her or himself less than a week later.  Kyle’s research, though, did turn up one person who lived, and that is Robert Talley (Rob Morgan).  He escaped that fate by killing another person, though the witness to his act of murder ended up with the curse, thus perpetuating the cycle.  What this says to Dr. Cotter is that there is no escaping the fate that appears to be headed her way.  Following being found at the hospital by Dr. Desai with a knife in the car, she becomes convinced that she needs to be alone.  It also did not help that she dreamed of killing Carl.  Her solution is travel to the house she lived in with her mother and confront the demons of the past.  It looks as if this works.  There is a terrifying encounter with a beast in a grotesque form of her mother that she manages to burn down inside the house.  She then drives to Joel’s apartment and asks to sleep there for a while.  Frustratingly, this is not the end, but another hallucination.  Instead, Joel begins smiling at her and she runs out of his apartment to find herself once more outside of her mother’s house.  The real Joel shows up, causing her to scream and attempt to lock herself inside the house.  In the gutted living room unfolds another encounter with the demon, this one going differently.  By the time Joel kicks down the door, he is in time to see a smiling Dr. Cotter doused in kerosine and lighting a match.

So, I guess the end of Smile means Joel is the next victim.  What I wanted to have happen is for Dr. Cotter to confront her past and overcome the guilt that she feels.  This is what they were setting up, but I knew they were not going to let me have it as soon as she got to Joel’s apartment.  You can call me a square Catholic, but I like happy endings.  These days, this seems to be the last thing on the minds of those making horror movies.  This might be a worse concept than the actual films.  I know I have said this in other reviews of this kind, but it bears repeating.  I do not get how one can construct a cinematic world where this kind of evil exists without a corresponding good to keep it in check.  For me, my good will always come from God, and I pray that others come to accept Him into their hearts.  As St. Pope John Paul the Great once said, “God is love.”  What can be better than love?  Of course, there is nothing better.  It is the Supreme Good, and it conquers all.  There is a conspicuous lack of this in the film, and this is why I find it so distasteful.  Dr. Cotter tries to control what is happening to her instead of giving herself over to the one thing that can heal the wounds of her past, that being God’s love.

Watching Smile makes me consider imposing a personal ban on horror movies.  To be fair, not all entries in this genre end in this manner.  And while I have not seen many examples, what I have appears to be focused on saying that there is only evil and nothing that can defeat it.  I do not understand why people would want to experience such a world, even if they are (hopefully) fictional.  Then again, perhaps there is something I am missing.  In any case, more often than not I will leave these to Cameron.


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