An often creepy horror film that doesn’t have an original thought in its head [Fantastic Fest]

Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon, who does a good job here, especially since she spends a huge chunk of the film in near-hysterics) seems to be living a perfectly normal life. Then one day, a patient walks into her office and tells a scary story: she keeps seeing something. It looks human, but it’s not. Indeed, it can even masquerade as people you know – the patient reports that she once saw it masquerading as her long-dead grandfather. All of this is creepy enough on its own, but just to top things off, it’s revealed that this spirit, ghost, entity, demon — you name it. it’s never really clear – he also has a fondness for smiling. Very. Haunted!

Rose believes that the patient is going through some kind of mental crisis, and he very well may be. But that doesn’t mean he’s lying. Rose is further traumatized by the whole event as the patient commits suicide right in front of her eyes. Almost immediately, Rose’s life begins to spiral out of control. She starts spotting grimly smiling ghosts everywhere she goes, scaring her new boyfriend (Jessie T. Usher) in the process. Don’t worry though! Rose also has a fat ex-boyfriend (Kyle Gallner), who is also a cop, meaning he’s great for providing exposure in the form of old police records.

It seems that whatever is tormenting Rose has a long, bloody history. But that’s not enough to get the people around Rose to buy into her stories. Even worse, Rose can never be sure if she’s even talking to people she knows or if she’s the creature in disguise. This leads the entire story into the world of mental illness, a messy place even in the kindest of hands. Here, writer-director Parker Finn makes no attempt to really understand anything about mental illness. it’s just there to serve as a plot device.

But Finn is also adept at serving up scary scenes. A meeting with Rose’s therapist (a very game Robin Weigert) is disturbing, as is a scene where Rose visits a prison inmate (Rob Morgan) who may know exactly what she’s going through. And yet, “Smile” gets lazy as most of its scary scenes turn out to be nightmares that Rose sees. Look, nightmares can be pretty scary! But if you give us a scary scene and then have the main character get up in bed, confirming this scary thing we just saw it didn’t even happenit kind of steals the momentum of the whole effort.

All this annoyed me. But I also found myself nodding along to several of the film’s more effective scare scenes, despite feeling that huge chunks of the story (specifically a story about Rose and her troubled mother) are glossed over or barely touched upon. There is real skill and artistry smiling at us here. Too bad it’s buried under so many used scripts.

/Movie Rating: 5.5 out of 10

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