Where I Watched it: Paramount Plus

English Audio Description?: Yes

I think Smile is the kind of film that every studio needs to take a look at seriously. Smile was not intended for theatrical release, but rather a Paramount Plus release. However, amazing reactions from test audiences made paramount change its mind. This still has Paramount Players on it, which is the arm of Paramount used to send films straight to streaming. And since Smile has made over 100M at the box office, and is still (as of this posting) in the top 10 at the box office despite being on Paramount Plus, I think this is a perfect case study for giving films a theatrical run, with a 45 day window onto streaming. It boosts their visibility, and would help a lot of films when they land on the service.

All that being said, all parker Finn did was remake It Follows. He took a concept about some kind of evil force that only the cursed afflicted is able to see, that is passed along from person to person. And just like It Follows, he leaves questions unanswered. For example, for It Follows, the joke was always that since the creature only walked, you should always be able to outrun it, or just drive away, fly away from it. Is it following you in Colorado? Maybe it’s time to take a trip to Hawaii?

Smile opens a door with it’s “witness” requirement. It either doesn’t want to go there, or doesn’t find it interesting enough. In order for you to be cursed, you have to be a witness, but the film doesn’t answer the question of what happens should there be multiple witnesses? in fact, considering this thing seems to want to spread as much as possible, wouldn’t more witnesses benefit it? Why does it always only want one?

That being said, aside from gaping plot holes, Parker Finn has managed to get a lot of praise for a film full of cheap jump scares. FULL. LOADED. It’s actually quite obnoxious, because director Parker Finn clearly thinks jump scares are the coolest thing ever, and instead of building tension, he’d rather have a loud noise that has no relevance to anything, or a face pop up out of nowhere. Some horror directors manage to earn their jump scares.

A while back, during the Halloween season, i wrote just how good The Conjuring was. It was due in part to director James Wan holding the films tension for almost half the film. You knew something would eventually pop out, but by hiding it, it made it so much more effective when it happened. he built the tension, and he earned every jump scare. Here, Finn basically starts you off with the catalyst event, reminding you this film will be gory as well, and gives his protagonist a “The Ring” type setting where her time runs out in just a few days. So, she has only a limited number of days to uncover what she can for the audience, if she has a prayer of surviving the film.

Sosie Bacon leads, and most of her supporting cast is solid. Kyle Gallner as an ex who is also a cop does his job, Kal Penn pops up in a thankless role, but Jesse T usher is back to proving he’s still not a strong actor outside of playing the unlikable A-Train on The Boys. Not only do he and Bacon have no chemistry, he brings nothing to the film.

I saw so many missed opportunities to make this film emotionally resonant, or to get us more invested in these characters, but Finn is far more interested in showing you something disturbing, or having a face pop out of the shadows. I cannot stress the level and frequency of jump scares in this film. Rarely is tension built. There were a few I saw coming, but other times, it’s just in a moment that makes no sense. There was one really great moment, which i understand was given away in the trailer anyway.

However, for a blind audience, since the audio description doesn’t ruin any of the jump scares in advance, this might be the scariest thing to watch. We are so beholden to audio tracks, that when a film like this comes around with loud noises out of nowhere, faces popping up with creepy smiles accompanied by some sudden music cue, this becomes effective. you’ll hate it for what and why it’s doing, but if you want to get the blood pumping, I’m not going to say Smile can’t do that for you. It just doesn’t necessarily make it good, and there’s something to be said about being startled and actually scared. I found myself startled or surprised, but never scared.

The ending to this film is useless crap that just refuses to explain itself. Smile is a film with potential, that takes a lot from a format that already worked rather well once, and just changes some elements. But, it seems as though Parker Finn was always taking the least interesting route with his plot, and seemed far more interested in figuring out how to get that “Gotcha!” Moment, than he was devoting himself to a cohesive and memorable plot with strong and fleshed out characters.

If you have a friend who said they never jumped during this film, they are lying. This film is a jump scare horror film. That is what it is, and no matter how many horror films you have seen, I promise at least one of these cheap attempts will come at such a random time when you’re not expecting it, that you will be startled at least once. I know it got me at least once, maybe two or three times if I was being really honest.

Final Grade: C+

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