SMILE

By

Victoria Alexander



I watched the entire movie through my fingers. Starring Sosie Bacon her constant panic is operatic. She was terrifying in her out-of-control hysteria.

There are 19 different smiles. The most famous is the Duchenne smile, since it has the fancy name of its discoverer. The Duchenne smile is an expression that signals true enjoyment. It occurs when the zygomaticus major muscle lifts the corners of the mouth at the same time the orbicularis oculi muscles lift the cheeks and crinkle the eyes at the corners.

A fake smile lacks the crinkling around the eyes, making the Duchenne smile unique.The most important smile to recognize in relationships – besides the “flirty smile” is the “contempt smile” which is marked by the corner of the lip being pulled back and slightly upwards. A mild sneer. Interestingly, it’s also the only asymmetrical universal facial expression.

SMILE is the new IT FOLLOWS. The 2014 film by writer-director David Robert Mitchell is a brilliant, unique horror story: The only way to get rid of a demonic entity possessing you is to have sex with someone. The demon then leaps into the other person and you are free. “Why” is not a problem in horror movies. Does Michael Myers have a day job? Leatherface first appeared decades ago. All icons of horror are well over 70 years old. Where do they keep their walkers when climbing through windows?

Horror movies exist in an illogical abyss. Where a demonic entity comes from, it’s purpose, how to reason with it and how to scare it away, are left unanswered. These evil entities are just angry spirits looking for revenge from anybody. Could you offer a demon a substitute? Would they be interested in an intern instead of a victim? Would an animal sacrifice be an adequate appeasement? Could the offer to be their human intercessor work?

Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is a dedicated therapist working in an emergency psych ward. One evening a college student is brought in. Laura (Caitlin Stasey) is hysterical. She just saw her professor kill himself. Moments before her professor died, intentionally in front of her, he made a freaky, pasted-on smile which is outside the realm of human facial gestures. It was, perhaps the little known 20th smile, the “demonic smile.” Laura is having weird visions and Dr. Cotter’s sympathetic, stage-performance comfort infuriates Laura. I was waiting for Rose to say to Laura: “Just breathe.” Laura smashes a flower pot. An experienced therapist would never turn away from someone exhibiting screaming, hysterical behavior but this is exactly what Rose does. When Rose turns back to Laura after calling for help, she has the “demonic smile” plastered on her face. She uses a pot shard to slit her throat.

Rose freaks out.

The demonic entity has entered Rose. Supposedly well versed in sociopathic behavior – it’s her job – Laura’s suicide has ignited Rose’s overriding guilt concerning her mother’s suicide. Here is a first – a horror victim who, as a child, did something really bad and unforgivable.

I do not like it when someone asks me to smile whenever taking my photo. I do not like to be told what to do. What kind of smile do they want? How does a person magically create a smile that would please the picture taker?

Runway models never smile. They are directed to be robotic and without emotion. Wearing a handmade $15,000 dress should illicit some feeling – even if it is “the feeling of momentary entitlement.”

Rose lives with her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher). He has been putting up with Rose’s unstable behavior for some time. Rose’s therapist Dr. Northcott (Robin Weigert), her boss Dr. Desai (Kal Penn), and her sister Holly (Gillian Zinser) do not believe she is possessed by a demon. Well, I guess her credentials are shaky.

The detective handling Laura’s case, Joel (Kyle Gallner), just happens to be Rose’s former boyfriend. Rose asks Joel to help and through his confidential police access, finds there is one survivor of a similar ordeal. Meeting this guy in prison, he tells Rose what he knows about the phenomenon. It’s not looking good for Rose. Now, unlike the well-trodden path of the horror movie genre, there is no last minute rescue for the heroine.

As with most movies today, depending on box office, or the whim of a Hollywood executive, there is always the possibility of a sequel, prequel or franchise building conceit. There will be a SMILE 2. I’m still waiting for IT FOLLOWS 2 but after the writer-director’s second film, UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (2018) was a huge misfire, chances are good that there will finally be a sequel. SMILE 2 will likely come, unless the writer-director, Parker Finn, decides to do a horror musical first.

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Personal email: victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com