After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, Dr. Rose Cotter starts experiencing frightening occurrences that she can’t explain. Rose must confront her troubling past in order to survive and escape her horrifying new reality.

A supernatural being torments a psychiatrist after she witnesses a traumatic event in . Rose Cotter () is a psychiatrist in the psych ward of a hospital who meets with Laura Weaver (), a Ph.D. student who claims to be tormented by a being that takes the form of people smiling at her. Without warning, Laura has a panic attack before rising with a wicked smile and taking her own life. Following this traumatic event, Rose begins to see similar smiling beings, which brings back traumatic stress from her youth. Rose ends up being asked by her boss Dr. Morgan Desai (), to take a leave of absence and also finds herself shunned by both her finance Trevor () and sister Holly (). With the help of her police detective ex, Joel (), Rose tries to find the source of this curse and find a way to break it.

Smile is the feature debut from writer/director Parker Finn, based on his 2020 horror short Laura Hasn't Slept, starring Caitlin Stasey, who reprises the role of Laura for this feature-length adaptation. With a plot quite evocative of It Follows, except with a curse spread through trauma instead of sex, Smile stars Sosie Bacon (Mare of Easttown) as psychiatrist Rose Cotter, whose life begins to fall apart after she begins being tormented by an entity that takes the form of people, who give the most unnatural looking smiles.

Whether intentional or not by director Parker Finn, as a person who has to deal with having anxiety, I have to contend that Smile is a very problematic film that perpetuates the stigmas against people with mental illness. As a result of being tormented by this being, which brings back childhood trauma Rose experienced from her mother's suicide, Rose is all but fired from her job as a psychiatrist and ends up being viewed as crazy and unstable by both her finance Trevor and sister Holly, with the former at one point staging an intervention by having Rose's therapist Dr. Madeline Northcott () show up unannounced.

I would also argue that Smile is only truly scary for those who are afraid of those with mental illness. The film has an overreliance on jump scares, and one moment played for shock value during the birthday party of Rose's nephew, which went way too far, in my opinion. It also becomes quite apparent that there is only one way the curse of the film ends, which plays into my earlier criticisms involving depicting people with mental illness.

Instead of concluding by simply saying that I don't recommend Smile, I am instead going to recommend a horror film that deals with mental illness in a much more interesting and respectful manner. That would be the 2016 Canadian horror film The Dark Stranger, which utilizes animated graphic novel sequences to tell the story of the protagonist's depression. The Dark Stranger is a film I most definitely recommend watching instead of Smile.

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Trailer for Smile

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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