Rose Cotter ( Sosie Bacon ) has made it her mission to help everyone who suffers from mental health problems. But when the doctor has to watch how the paranoid student Laura ( Caitlin Stasey ) takes her own life in front of her own eyes, she can’t get rid of the sight – all the more so because she put on a big smile shortly before. After that, her boss, Dr. Forced Morgan Desai ( Kal Penn ) to take a week off. She’s supposed to be relaxing, spending more time with her fiancé, Trevor ( Jessie T. Usher), and gaining new strength. But nothing comes of it, because suddenly she herself has these strange visions that Laura suffered from before. In her distress, she turns to her ex-boyfriend Joel ( Kyle Gallner ), who works for the police and helps her to find out more about the strange case…
A smile is actually a nice thing, as it allows you to show sympathy or goodwill to the other person without leaving much room for misunderstandings. Actually. Of course, Parker Finn knew that too . In his feature film debut Smile – Do you see it too? , based on his award-winning short film Laura Hasn’t Slept, the director and screenwriter use a symbol of friendliness to evoke the exact opposite. As the German subtitle already announces, the sight of a smiling person does not mean anything good here. Anyone who has seen it knows that soon they will have nothing to laugh about. Instead of a friendly encounter, terror is the order of the day.
But Finn doesn’t rely solely on the gimmick that death announces itself here with a smile. He connected this ominous symbol with a particularly nasty story. This is not entirely new, and it wasn’t in the short film either. Rather, Smile uses – Do you see it too? the concept of the deadly infectious curse in the tradition of Ringu or It Follows and connects this with the motif of trauma. The latter is now used a bit inflationary when the outer monsters are often symbolic of the inner abysses and pain of the characters. But it’s not quite that simple here. The tragic event, which films tend to use instead of characterization, is an integral part of the curse here.
The implementation of this concept is certainly not the most original. Many of the scenes can be predicted fairly accurately with some experience in the horror genre. The same applies to the one or other jump scare that sticks a bit too much to the manual. But other moments are all the more successful. CGI is used every now and then, which doesn’t look particularly natural but works well in this context. Some appearances of evil are actually disturbing in this way. Smile also makes other things – do you see it too? something right with the optics. Above all, the various gimmicks by cameraman Charlie Sarnoff ( Relic – Dark Legacy ) give the film an artistically alienated note.
You have to accept that some things don’t really make sense and that the main character behaves a bit stupid in the decisive moments, which is typical for the genre. With a running time of almost two hours, Smile – Can you see it? maybe a bit long. It won’t be boring though. This is how Finn manages to create an atmosphere of constant threat. Wherever Rose goes, she can no longer feel safe anywhere. She’s also unable to feel safe with anyone anymore, as the heavy focus on psychological horror means anything and everything can be a sham. For them and thus for the audience, this means doing without any rest periods. Even if there is no direct threat for long stretches and everything is rather detouring: The Cursed Trauma is one of the better horror films that have been shown in our cinemas so far this year.