Review: Horror movie ‘Smile’ is a bad portrayal of mental illness

By Amina Sergazina, Staff Reporter

A preview showing of “Smile” brings forth a full theater at AMC River East 21. Amina Sergazina

Content warning: The following review discusses the subject of suicide; the Chronicle regrets any discomfort this may cause.

The only scary part of the movie “Smile” after months of scary trailers and a creative promotional campaign, where actors stood in public places with creepy smiles, was a frighteningly poor portrayal of mental health.

Dr. Rose Cotter, the main character played by Sosie Bacon, is a therapist in an emergency room who overworks herself for 80 hours a week. She is presented as a kind and compassionate person who loves helping people.

The movie begins with a terrified woman coming to Cotter as a patient with scars on her face. The woman explains that something is following her, and it takes the shape of other people. The demonic entity she describes is always menacingly smiling, and it told her she is going to die.

When Cotter tries to rationalize the woman’s fear and calm her down, the woman gets upset, which is confusing because it is a logical reaction from a therapist. Predictably, the woman gets possessed by that entity and kills herself by using a broken vase piece to cut her throat with a smile on her face.

From that point on Cotter experiences the same hallucinations that her patient did. Her boss, fiancé Trevor and sister Holly start to question her mental health. From Holly, we learn their mother struggled with mental illness and committed suicide when they were kids. After acting unusual, her boss thinks it’s from stress and forces her to take a paid week off.

The trailer of the movie spoils for the viewers the way this entity is passed along, a victim witnesses the “possessed” person kill themselves and from that trauma, the entity moves to that person and the cycle continues. This was frustrating because Cotter spends the whole second part of the movie investigating how the entity works while the viewers already know, which killed the mystery aspect.

Moviegoers sit in anticipation for the start of the horror film, only to later laugh more than scream. Amina Sergazina

I don’t understand why the movie pushes this theme of mental illness, from Cotter’s job to her mother, if this is just another movie about ghosts pretending to be a psychological thriller.

“Smile” makes many jokes about people who are possessed by that entity as being “crazy,” but with the purpose of making viewers laugh, which does not sit right with me. We see struggles and the stigma that real people with mental illness go through, but the movie instead of exploring that prefers to use it just as a “fun” twist on ghosts.

The jump scares and gory visuals are a highlight of the movie. There are many moments where we are left alone with Cotter and listen to silence, which builds tension. When the movie shows mutilated bodies, they are so realistic you would want to turn your head around.

But when viewers are not being jump-scared, there are a lot of intentional jokes in the dialogue that will make an audience audibly laugh. And the jokes carry through the movie until the very end.

The jokes throw off the pacing, and it feels more like a comedy with how rare the well-crafted scares are compared to jokes.

Although there are a lot of strong points in the movie like visuals, special effects and jump scares, these elements get lost because the movie is too scared to go all the way with the theme of mental illness and did not live up to the psychological thriller genre.