Review: ‘Smile’ (2022), starring Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Robin Weigert, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn and Rob Morgan

September 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sosie Bacon and Jack Sochet in “Smile” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Smile” (2022)

Directed by Parker Finn

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Jersey and briefly in Altoona, Pennsylvania, the horror film “Smile” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A clinical psychiatrist witnesses a patient commit suicide after the patient claims to be stalked by an evil entity, and then the psychiatrist begins to believe that this evil entity is now stalking her and is trying to kill her.

Culture Audience: “Smile” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of terrifying horror movies about supernatural evil and about how trauma can haunt people.

Sosie Bacon and Jessie T. Usher in “Smile” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Smile” doesn’t reinvent the horror genre, but it has the type of suspense and gore that will get viewers to jump and squirm in their seats and possibly have some nightmares. This well-crafted story is the start of an obvious franchise. Unfortunately, there is a very real possibility that “Smile” could turn into franchise like the “Saw” horror movie series, which overstayed its welcome and failed to maintain the quality of the first movie in the series. If the inevitable “Smile” sequels turn out to be mindless trash dumps, at least people can still enjoy the first “Smile” movie as an example of a horror movie done right.

“Smile” (the feature-film debut of writer/director Parker Finn) takes a simple concept and turns it into a tension-filled thriller that has more going on than just a series of gruesome deaths. There’s also a bona fide mystery-solving aspect to the story that will hold viewers’ interest. “Smile” doesn’t waste time getting to the bloody horror, because the first death happens in the first 10 minutes of the movie.

“Smile” begins by showing protagonist Dr. Rose Cotter (played by Sosie Bacon) at her job as a clinical psychiatrist at Mount Pleasant Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. (The movie was filmed on location in New Jersey.) Rose thinks of herself as a calm and analytical professional who can handle almost anything that comes her way. Her life is about to be turned upside down with the arrival of a patient who ends up killing herself in front of Rose.

Before that patient arrives at the hospital, the movie shows that Rose is the type of medical professional who is compassionate to people who don’t have health insurance. She gets called into the office of her immediate supervisor, Dr. Morgan Desai (played by Kal Penn), who mildly reprimands her for not giving him advance notice about Rose treating a patient who has no health insurance and who has a history of mania and drug abuse. Rose lets Dr. Desai know that she’s annoyed by the corporate, profit-oriented way of treating patients. She believes that giving people the best health care possible should be more important than whether or not people can afford to pay for treatment through health insurance.

One of Rose’s current patients is a man named Carl Renken (played by Jack Sochet), who keeps repeating things out loud such as, “Mom’s going to die. I’m going to die. We’re all going to die.” Carl seems to be living in his own world that’s removed from reality, because he doesn’t communicate much except to make these ominous death statements. Rose has diagnosed Carl with having “manic episodes.”

Rose is soon called to attend to a graduate student named Laura Weaver (played by Caitlin Stasey), who appears to be having a psychotic break with reality. Laura has been brought to the hospital for the first time for a psychiatric evaluation. Laura is fully conscious, but she’s rambling about how she’s being stalked by something that wants to kill her. Before Rose sees Laura in an observation room, Rose is quickly told that just a week before, Laura experienced the trauma of witnessing her art history professor Gabriel Muñoz bludgeoning himself to death with a hammer.

Rose and Laura are alone together in an observation room, where Rose interviews Laura for an evaluation. Laura says to Rose, “I’m a Ph.D. candidate. I’m not some lunatic.” Laura then tells Rose with fear in her voice: “I’m seeing something—something that no one else can see. It looks like different people.” Laura then describes that this “something” disguises itself as people she knows and people who are total strangers.

“It wears people’s faces likes masks,” Laura continues. And how does Laura know she’s in the presence of this indescribable entity? Laura says that this “something” makes itself known when Laura sees it in the form of a person who has a very menacing and creepy smile on that person’s face.

Suddenly, Laura screams out in terror and acts as if an unseen entity is attacking her. Laura writhes around on the floor and continues screaming, as if she’s fighting for her life against something that Rose can’t see. Some glass in the room gets broken during the process. Rose quickly goes to use a phone on the wall to call for emergency backup.

In order to use the phone, Rose had to temporarily turn her back to Laura. When Rose turns around, she sees Laura, who is now silent, standing up with an eerie smile on her face. And without saying a word, Laura uses the glass to fatally slit her throat in front of Rose.

The two police officers who arrive at the hospital to investigate are Detective Buckley (played by Perry Strong) and a guy named Joel (played by Kyle Gallner), who happens to be an ex-boyfriend of Rose. Detective Buckley, who is the older and more jaded cop partner, uses a lot of insensitive language to describe mentally ill people. Joel, who is the junior partner, asks some questions, but he lets Detective Buckley take the lead in the interviewing.

After this rough day, Rose goes home to try and relax. She lives alone and has a male cat named Moustache, who is friendly and adorable. It’s later revealed that Rose been working 60-hour weeks for the past several weeks, with no vacation time off. It’s why, when she starts to have her own mental unraveling, her boss thinks it’s the direct result of Rose being overworked.

Rose is so on edge when she gets home, she startled when her loving and supportive fiancé Trevor (played by Jessie T. Usher) shows up. She tells him about losing a patient that day, but she doesn’t go into the gory details. Trevor hugs and comforts her and asks her if there’s anything he can do. She says his hug is a good start.

Over time, viewers see that Rose has a pattern of trying to hide any pain or trauma that she might be feeling, which is why she doesn’t tell Trevor everything right away about the circumstances under which Laura died during Rose’s brief encounter with Laura. Rose’s workaholic ways and wanting to project an image of being a strong, independent woman eventually take their toll on her mental health when she begins to believe that something evil is trying to kill her.

If “Smile” has any big flaws, it’s the over-used horror cliché of “the woman who is not believed and labeled as mentally ill.” That’s essentially what goes on during the last half of “Smile,” as Rose becomes more and more convinced that she will be soon murdered by an evil entity that other people can’t see. However, some things happen along the way that make it look like Rose is the one who’s dangerous. Rose eventually has to get psychiatric help and starts seeing a therapist named Dr. Madeline Northcott (played by Robin Weigert), who tries to remain neutral, but Dr. Northcott also begins to question Rose’s sanity.

One of the best things about “Smile” is that it doesn’t make Rose a hollow character who just has nightmares or runs around looking terrified. Rose has an entire backstory that is eventually revealed. Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that Rose is still reeling from the trauma of her single mother committing suicide when Rose was 10 years old.

Rose has an older sister named Holly (played by Gillian Zinser), who was an adult who had already moved out of the family home when their mother killed herself. Holly, who still lives in New Jersey, is now a wife, homemaker and the mother of a son named Jackson (played by Matthew Lamb), who turns 7 years old during the course of the story. Holly is a domineering spouse to her husband Greg (played by Nick Arapoglou), who is as materialistic as Holly is.

For example, Greg and Holly don’t understand why Rose won’t take their advice to open up a private practice so that Rose can get a much higher salary than what she makes at the hospital. During a dinner that Rose and Trevor have with Holly and Greg at a restaurant, Greg tells Rose that the main reason to become a doctor should be to get rich. Trevor defends Rose by saying that Rose isn’t a doctor for the money and that she loves being a doctor so much, she would be a doctor for free.

A more emotional and touchier subject with this family is that Holly and Greg disagree with Rose about what to do with the property that has the run-down and abandoned house where Rose and Holly used to live as children. Rose apparently co-owns the property with Holly, but Rose refuses to sign off on selling the house, or tearing down the house and selling the land. And as soon as it’s mentioned that there’s a run-down and abandoned house in a horror movie, you just know that there’s going to be at least one scene that takes place in that run-down and abandoned house.

Meanwhile, viewers find out that Joel isn’t completely over Rose, who broke up with him in a period of time that is not specified in the movie. Joel already knows that Rose is engaged to another man. However, Joel appears to still be in love with Rose, which explains why he shows up unannounced at the hospital the day after Laura’s suicide, to check in on Rose and ask her how she’s doing.

At first, Rose gives Joel a polite but firm brushoff. But later, when strange and disturbing things start happening to Rose, she asks for Joel’s help in investigating what Laura told Rose before Laura committed suicide. Joel agrees to help Rose in his off-duty time. Professor Gabriel Muñoz’s widow Victoria Muñoz (played by Judy Reyes) and a prisoner named Robert Talley (played by Rob Morgan) offer some big clues along the way in this investigation.

“Smile” has many talented cast members, but Bacon is the obvious standout in her portrayal of Rose, a character that has to carry the movie with a variety of believable emotions and various stages of terror. Writer/director Finn brings a foreboding tone and pace to “Smile” that doesn’t ease up on any of the tension. And thankfully, the movie sticks to an uncomplicated concept that doesn’t get distracted or cluttered by too many characters and subplots. The movie also injects some comic relief in a few scenes, mostly coming from Joel’s comments.

But make no mistake: “Smile” is a movie that is definitely not for very young children or people who are easily agitated by seeing very hideous death scenes. One of the main things that will keep viewers on edge and invested in the story is finding out exactly what is the cause of the terror in this movie. “Smile” does not disappoint when that mystery is revealed.

The movie could have ended in several different ways. The ending that was chosen is ultimately the one that packs a major wallop that many viewers will not see coming. And just like many original horror movies that leave a huge impression on audiences, “Smile” is poised to spawn multiple sequels for people who want the terrifying story to continue.

Paramount Pictures released “Smile” in U.S. cinemas on September 30, 2022, with a sneak preview in select U.S. cinemas on September 27, 2022.

Review: ‘The Only One’ (2021), starring Jon Beavers and Caitlin Stasey

December 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jon Beavers and Caitlin Stasey in “The Only One” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“The Only One” (2021)

Directed by Noah Gilbert

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of France, the dramatic film “The Only One” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An American winemaker, who owns a vineyard in France, finds his world rocked when a British ex-girlfriend who dumped him six years earlier suddenly comes back into his life.

Culture Audience: “The Only One” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a tedious and predictable drama.

Hugo Armstrong in “The Only One” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

What would you do if an ex-love who abruptly left you unexpectedly showed up in your life again when you’re single and available? That’s the dilemma presented in the drawn-out and lackluster romantic drama “The Only One,” which makes it too easy to see how everything is going to end. In addition to the bland story, the movie fails to have interesting characters. In fact, the woman who’s supposed to be the movie’s charismatic heartbreaker is actually a selfish and flaky bore.

If you watch “The Only One,” it’ll be hard not to fall asleep or to resist the urge to fast-forward through the many dull scenes in the film. Some viewers might not even have the patience to finish watching the movie. This impatience would be understandable because it’s all too obvious what’s going to happen in this movie. The two main characters haven’t changed much or learned important life lessons after not seeing each other for six years.

“The Only One” (directed by Noah Gilbert and written by his brother Seth Gilbert) has the dubious claim of setting a romantic movie in France when the movie isn’t very romantic at all. Viewers with enough life experience can easily see that the mismatched, would-be couple at the center of the story is just a hollow prop for the “will they or won’t they get together” gimmick that’s the shaky foundation for this movie. In order for a movie like this to really connect with viewers, people have to care about the would-be couple in the first place.

It seems like “The Only One” filmmakers were going for a vibe that’s similar to director Richard Linklater’s 2004 romantic reunion drama “Before Sunset.” Linklater and “Before Sunset” co-stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for the movie. “The Only One” is nowhere near as witty, charming and intriguing as “Before Sunset” but is actually just the opposite in almost every way.

“The Only One” begins with the arrival of a British woman in her early-to-mid-30s named Tom (played by Caitlin Stasey) at a mid-sized vineyard somewhere in France. The first thing she sees is a dead horse in a field on the property. It’s later revealed that the horse was named Gwen and belonged to the vineyard owner David (played by Jon Beavers), who is American and Tom’s ex-boyfriend. Tom has shown up at this vineyard unannounced and uninvited.

As she casually saunters into the vineyard house where David lives, Tom appears to be somewhat smug when she encounters David and he’s surprised to see her. “I hate to be a bummer,” Tom says to David, “but your horse is dead.” David tries to play it cool and answers, “I know.” There’s a tedious part of the movie where David finds a new horse to replace the dead one, which died of old age.

Over time, it’s very obvious that David (who is in his mid-30s) can’t hide that he’s still in love with Tom. Through conversations and flashbacks, it’s revealed that David and Tom met in Dublin six years earlier during a bonfire party. David fell hard and fast for Tom, who is a longtime drifter. The movie tries to make Tom look like a “free spirit,” but she’s really just a soul-sucking manipulator who refuses to make any real commitments or have any real responsibilities in life.

Tom and David began living together during their time in Dublin. One day, she told him that she was going out for some cigarettes. And she never went back or said goodbye. She also never made contact with David or an apology for this cold-hearted breakup until she tracked David down six years later by finding out on Instagram where he was living. Even though Tom could’ve contacted David on social media, she chose not to and decided to show up at the vineyard as a “surprise,” without really knowing how David would react to seeing her again.

In the six years since they last saw each other, David ended up living in France, where he found work at a vineyard owned by an elderly man, who became a mentor to David. When the vineyard owner died, he left the business to David in his will. David says that the old man was an “asshole” but he treated David well enough to trust him with the vineyard. David also tells Tom that the vineyard’s previous owner has two estranged daughters who definitely were not in consideration to inherit the vineyard. These daughters also seem to have no interest in the business because they’re never seen in the movie or mentioned again.

Tom gives David a brief update on what she’s been up to in the six years that since they last saw each other. She mentions that she worked for a time as a barista in Auckland, New Zealand. Tom also that she signed a home lease with “an Argentinian chick” she was dating, but Tom left this lover too. “I’ve been everywhere man,” Tom says to David, as people with empty, aimless lives do when they want to appear more glamorous than they really are.

David has a little bit of pretension about himself too. He likes to brag that his vineyard is completely organic and operates exactly how it did when it was built more than 200 years ago. That means the vineyard and everything else on the property doesn’t have electricity. David is proud of the fact that he has no modern technology, but it seems like a questionable way of doing business when this lack of technology will just make things harder and more expensive for him.

Eventually, it’s revealed that Tom’s real name is Natalie. She began calling herself Tom shortly after she met David, because she had been drinking Old Tom Gin when they met. Not much is told about Tom’s family background except that her father was in the military, which might explain why she’s accustomed to moving around a lot. It doesn’t explain why she’s such so self-centered and unreliable.

Tom/Natalie is the type of heartbreaker who gets by and gets away with a lot because of her good looks. Based on the little information that’s revealed about her, she has a pattern of using lovers for a place to live, and then she suddenly leaves them when she grows bored with them. Whatever she wants from David, it’s obviously for her own selfish reasons.

Not everyone is charmed by Tom. David’s brother-in-law Rob (played by Hugo Armstrong) intensely dislikes her not just because she owes Rob money but mostly because of how she broke David’s heart. Rob is married to David’s older sister Em (played by Blake Lindsley), and Rob is the social media manager for David’s vineyard. Em and Rob live with their two sons (one is 7, the other is 4) somewhere in Oregon, but it just so happens Rob and Em are in France to visit David at the same time that Tom shows up. The children are not with Rob and Em on this trip.

Needless to say, Rob isn’t happy to see Tom at all. In private, Rob sarcastically asks David, “Do you think it’s a coincidence that she showed up hours after Gwen [the horse] passing?” Rob is also very suspicious of what Tom wants from David. Understandably, Rob doesn’t want Tom to hurt David again.

Meanwhile, David seems to easily forgive Tom and is embarrassed when Rob mentions in front of Tom how deeply hurt David was when Tom left him. Out of pride, David downplays how devastated he was by the breakup. And even if he told Tom how much she hurt him, she doesn’t seem capable of fully understanding the type of emotional wreckage she leaves behind when she decideds to leave lovers on a whim.

At one point, David and Tom discuss why their relationship ended. This conversation just further proves how self-obsessed Tom is. He asks her, “Why did you bail on me in Dublin?” She replies, “I wanted to see Asia.” She adds, “I’m sorry … I really did go out for cigarettes.” And as if to justify the awful way that she treated David, she reminds him: “I told you I suck at dating.”

Much of “The Only One” is about the tensions that Tom stirs up with her unexpected visit. Tom, David, Rob and Em have a somewhat awkward lunch where Em tells Tom she admires and somewhat envies Tom for having the freedom to go wherever Tom wants to go. Rob can barely contain his disgust because he can see Tom for who she really is: a homeless drifter who’s come back in David’s life to see what she can get out of him.

And what exactly does Tom want from David? She tests his willingness to drop everything to hang out with her. There’s a long stretch of the movie where he ditches his vineyard responsibilities to go off and travel with her. They “borrow” Rob’s motorcycle without his permission when they go on this impulsive trip.

A major problem with “The Only One” is that Tom is very shallow and doesn’t have a captivating personality. Most people who’ve traveled and lived in several countries learn a lot about different cultures and have fascinating stories to tell. Not Tom. She mostly talks about herself and tries to get David to think that he’s become boring, now that he’s found a steady job that he likes.

Meanwhile, viewers won’t have much respect for David either, because he acts like a spineless, easily manipulated wimp when he’s with Tom. Do people act this way in real life when they’re madly in love with a narcissist? Of course. But if you’re going to make a movie about it, at least make the dialogue intriguing, not a monotonous slog. All the warning signs are there about what will happen if David decides he wants to rekindle his romance with Tom.

“The Only One” has a rambling quality to it where viewers will keep wondering where the story is going and what kind of statement this movie is trying to make. There’s a useless character named Madame Gerard (played by Niseema Theillaud), a lonely, elderly neighbor who has lunch with David every Tuesday. She adds nothing to the story, unless the filmmakers wanted to have a token French character in a movie set in France but most of the main characters are not French.

“The Only One” has some nice scenic shots of France. But that’s not enough to make a movie interesting. “The Only One” doesn’t have much to offer, in terms of memorable characters and an engaging story. The acting and direction are mediocre. And most of all, this very un-romantic movie that’s supposed to be romantic will just make viewers feel like they wasted their time watching a pointless and forgettable story.

Vertical Entertainment released “The Only One” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 10, 2021.

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