4K ULTRA HD REVIEW /HDR FRAME SHOTS
Therapist Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) starts experiencing frightening occurrences as her patients exhibit bizarre grins.
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4K Ultra HD, Digital copy; 2022; R for strong, violent content, grisly images and profanity; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K), Paramount+ (4K)
Best extra(s): “Something’s Wrong with Rose: Making SMILE” and director’s commentary with Parker Finn
CURSE, DEMON … maybe both? Or is this only a nasty mental breakdown based on past trauma? Those are the questions in writer/director Parker Finn’s horror sleeper “Smile.”
The malevolent grin is a horror trope we love. Consider “Sinister,” 2012; Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter of “The Silence of the Lambs,” 1991; William Castle’s “Mr. Sardonicus,” 1961; Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in “Psycho,” 1959; the animated and Angelina Jolie’s live-action “Maleficent,” 1950, 2014; Pennywise the Clown of “It,” 1990, 2017; Jack Nicolson’s Jack Torrance in “The Shining,” 1980; Linda Blair’s Regan of “The Exorcist,” 1973; Batman’s Joker, every film and comic, and, most recently, the killer in “The Black Phone,” 2021.
Buckle up, buttercup – here it comes again!
Paramount only intended to stream Finn’s debut film on Paramount+, but it scored high for test audiences. Made for $17 million, "Smile" earned a whopping $216,097,742 gross in its worldwide box office. Word of mouth helped spread interest, but so did Paramount’s clever PR campaign placing "smiling" actors in high-traffic areas including Major League Baseball games and ABC’s Good Morning America. A 30-second teaser accompanied the hit film “Top Gun: Maverick” and appeared on several TV and streaming sites. The studio has actually been nominated for the 2023 Hollywood Critics Association's Best Marketing Campaign. Finn, whose only prior film credit was two shorts, “The Hidebehind,” 2018, and “Laura Hasn’t Slept,” 2020 – the inspiration for “Smile” – couldn’t be happier. Both films can be found on YouTube.com.
“Laura Hasn’t Slept” was set to premiere at South by Southwest 2020, Finn explains in the making-of. The event was canceled because of the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Still, SXSW critics went ahead and made their choice, presenting "Smile" with the Special Jury Award.
(1&2) Young Rose Cotter (Meghan Brown Pratt) sees her mother’s (Dora Kiss) death. (3) Fast-forward to Dr. Rose Cotter in her office going over patient files in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital. (4&5) She questions patient Carl Renken (Jack Sochet) who’s suffered some form of trauma.
“We heard about this incredible short film that had blown people away,” producer Isaac Klausner recalls. “Some colleagues and I were able to track down a link to see the short, and it more than lived up to the hype. It blew us away.”
“I wanted the movie to feel like a constantly escalating nightmare,” Finn says in the making-of featurette. The mix of supernatural horror and real-life trauma/psychosis is well done. “Basically, it’s like a 90-minute panic attack,” Kyle Gallner adds. Gallner is cast as Joel, a detective and protagonist Rose Cotter’s former boyfriend. Rose is played by Sosie Bacon (“Mare of Easttown”), daughter of actors Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick.
Dr. Rose Cotter, who works in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital, is visited by Laura Weaver, a Ph.D. student (Caitlin Stasey) whose art history professor committed suicide in front of her days earlier. Laura is convinced some kind of creature is following her, taking on the appearance of various people. They grin at her, telling her she’s going to die. As Rose tries to assure her that, while her emotions feel real, this experience could be playing out because of her recent trauma, Laura breaks down further. Then kills herself, slicing her throat open while grinning ear-to-ear at Rose. When her supervisor, Dr. Morgan Desai (Kal Penn, “Harold and Kumar” films, “House”) discovers Rose, in addition to this, has been working non-stop, he gives her a week off and sends her home.
Gradually, we learn Rose has experienced a life of trauma that includes her mother’s suicide when she was only a child. She soon begins suffering from similar smiling hallucinations from strangers and those she knows. She has a huge falling out with her sister, Holly (Robin Weigert) over a birthday gift gone horribly wrong, and the trauma gets worse alienating Rose from everyone she knows … except her ex, Joel, who’s been called in to investigate the case of the dead student.
But Rose continues to investigate on her own, visiting the professor’s widow. Then Joel calls, saying he’s found a string of connected deaths, all suicides. Things do not improve.
(1) Ph.D. student Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey) grins ear-to-ear in front of Rose and slices her throat. (2) Police detectives Buckley (Perry Strong) and Joel (Kyle Gallner) question Rose’s supervisor Dr. Morgan Desai (Kal Penn) after Laura Weaver committed suicide. (3-6) Rose returns home as her world begins to turn upside down. She’s greeted by her cat Mustache and takes a hot shower.
“Smile” arrives in 2160p (2.00:1 aspect ratio) with a solid Dolby Vision/HDR10 transfer via Arri Alexz 6.5K digital cameras mounted with Hasselblad Prime DNA lenses from cinematographer Charlie Sarroff. It is a classy production from start to finish, mastered in true 4K, using deep blacks and shadows that continually provide excellent background detail. No squinting to see what’s there. Bright daylight and hospital scenes (those pink walls!) look genuine and not overly saturated. Dark and light contrast is well balanced, and complexions authentic. A fine, consistent film grain adds to the filmic experience.
Finn and Sarroff have immersed themselves in classic horror film visuals, using mostly practical effects which look great – so polished and much more believable. Finn and crew demonstrate how many were accomplished during the making-of feature and in the director’s commentary. Finn also describes his color palette; the change from professional to grunge wardrobe for Rose, contrasted with “normal world” bright and pastel bright colors, an unsettling look for a demonic presence.
Both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray come with effective Dolby Atmos and 7.1 Dolby TrueHD Master Audio track. Dialogue is always clear (there are more than a dozen subtitle options for those who use them) and effects are delivered throughout rear and height speakers. It’s a horror flick, so understand we get plenty of those!
(1&2) Rose gets a warm hug from her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher) and the two have dinner with Rose’s sister Holly (Robin Weigert) and brother-in-law Greg (Nick Arapoglou). (3) Rose reexamines Carl Renken after he appeared with a wide grin and yells, “YOU'RE GONNA DIE... YOU'RE GONNA DIE!” (4&5) Rose visits her therapist, Dr. Madeline Northcott (Robin Weigert).
Let me begin by saying I love extras. Bad movies have redeemed themselves with good disc extras that clarify the film and director’s choices. No need for that with “Smile.”
Both the making-of, with interviews from the director, cast and crew, and the director’s commentary entertain and inform. Finn’s commentary – also optional with the two deleted scenes – give perspective and enthusiasm for a first-time studio experience.
“Flies on the Wall: Inside the Score” by Chilean-born Cristobal Tapia de Veer, composer and Emmy-winner for “White Lotus,” 2021, and BAFTA winner for “National Treasure,” 2016, demonstrates the objects used to create “Smile’s” score. It’s delightfully disturbing.
Also, find “Laura Hasn’t Slept,” the short that launched Parker Finn’s debut film. It certainly won’t be his last. “Smile” is set up for sequels.
— Kay Reynolds
(1) Rose attends her nephew Jackson’s (Matthew Lamb) birthday party. (2&3) Rose’s investigation leads her to the home of Dr. Muñoz who committed suicide in front of Ph.D. student Laura Weaver. Muñoz’s wife (Judy Reyes) shows Rose the drawings he made of the Entity that terrorized him. (4&5) Rose finds a string of connected deaths, all suicides.
(1&2) The demon also takes on the appearance of Dr. Northcott, and tells Rose that it was “almost time.” (3&4) Rose returns to her childhood home to confront her past.