Smile (2022) Review: It Follows made by committee.

I should say early doors, that it is entirely possible that this movie is the singular vision of one person and turned out exactly as writer/director Parker Finn intended. However I do feel like I have enough of an understanding of the way the giant disgusting industry works to feel relatively strongly that Paramount Pictures isn’t putting out an almost 2 hour horror movie that they’re not positive they can sell. Particularly when they’re putting money into weird viral marketing campaigns. So, with that aside, lets talk about the camel that is Smile.

Before I get into the issues I have with this one, I feel like it’s only fair to talk about what works first, and there are things that work to be sure. The concept on its (smiling) face, is genuinely creepy – and I wasn’t terrible surprised to hear that it was a short film before hand, because Lights Out worked much better in isolated scenes than in its totality and this kind of reminds me of that in that way. There are some truly unsettling and effective scene thought Smile, the majority of which were in the copious trailers, and one that doesn’t hit until the final moments of the movie. To spread that out across a relatively lackluster hour and fifty five minutes does not make for much to get excited about.

I will say though, there is a scene in the ending that absolutely bangs and if the movie had been more of that it might be one of my favourites of the year. Sadly, one good scene does not a good movie make. There are also some really great performances throughout; Sosie Bacon is great in the lead, and gives a pretty emotionally complex performance – for the most part. She reminded me a whole lot of Lili Taylor throughout, and I really appreciated that kind of off-beat performance. Caitlin Stasey is also great, albeit only briefly in the movie, and Kal Penn has a great and natural charm about him.

I imagine that the scenes that do work are the reasons the movie is seeing quite a bit of positive response, because when it works it does work. The other thing I see commented quite positively on is the thematic exploration of mental illness and trauma. Personally, I feel like the movie is getting an A for effort rather than credit for a real and meaningful exploration – how much of this is the fault of the studio or a bad script is kind of hard to tell, but it is there. The thematic exploration is also stated outright multiple times, seeming not to trust the audience with piecing it together on their own. It also creates an issue in the established rules of the world, and manages to simultaneously over and underexplain the smiling monster and there is some kind of disconnect between what the movie is trying to be about and what it is actually about.

Perhaps the biggest crime, to my mind, that this film commits comes down to the cat, Mustache. As soon as I saw that fucking cat I immediately required the movie to have a shot of that cat smiling with human teeth and really leaning into the wild premise and embracing a little absurdity. Instead, the cat is killed – as only true hack writer’s do – and used in a little fake out bit of nonsense, which I did not enjoy.

I will admit that it seems unfair to compare this movie to It Follows, but it really is the most obvious comparison the primary difference being that I quite like It Follows and found Smile a bit … tedious. A kind of funhouse version with a much less cohesive vision and made with the “assistance” of the production company and producers. Almost like seeing what Smile could have been in an alternate universe or something, rather than this pretty lackluster thing. \

A movie like this doesn’t need to be complicated, and should have a significantly more fun time with this premise. I think of something like last year’s Malignant, which runs about the same length but has a significantly more entertaining story that really leans into the goofiness of it all. There really could have been something like that here, and it does show through in more than one spot.

All in all, Smile just doesn’t quite put a smile (womp womp) on my face. I really wanted it to, but here we are.


It Follows: Surviving The It

It Follows - Poster

This post will contain spoilers.  So, if you haven’t seen It Follows, you should probably go see it immediately, then come back for this.

I’ve been thinking about this movie non-stop since I’ve seen it.  One of the ideas I’ve been kicking around lately has been the best way to get rid of The It.  Paul driving around the ruins of Detroit trolling for cheap hookers seems like a pretty good idea at first blush (plus, his undercover knit cap was pretty killer).  That prostitute will likely have sex with another man within the day, thus getting two people between Paul and The It.
But there are a few problems with this.  For starters, neither the prostitute nor the john know anything about this sinister being stalking them.  You remember how quickly Greg – the Johnny Depp/Skeet Ulrich looking neighbor – was killed?  They will be killed at least that quickly, because they don’t know what’s coming for them.  Ditto the guys who participated in Jay’s boat sex party.  So it buys time, but not a ton.  I’ve thought about the rules for this, and I like to think of it like a game of tag.  Let’s take a look at the prostitute.  Once she has sex, she has passed it on.  It’s not like she’s a carrier and passes it on to every guy she has sex with.  You can only pass it on when you are “it”.  She’ll transmit it to the first guy she has sex with, but then it’s on him.
And who is this guy?  I don’t know, but I can tell you this: he’s not coming from out of town to sleep with a prostitute, so he’s from Detroit or somewhere in the surrounding area.  It’s a safe bet that the guy paying money for a Detroit hooker isn’t rolling in females, so he’s not likely to pass it on anytime soon.  If he does, it’s likely to be someone else in the area.
My point is this: none of these people know something is after them, and none of them are leaving the area.  So The It will just be circling around in the Detroit area, knocking all these people off.  Perhaps The It will never be able to untangle the sex-web (sorry for saying “sex-web”) to make its way back to Paul and Jay.  Maybe the prostitute just keeps having sex before The It kills her, and it never comes back to Paul.

Hey pretty lady. What's your sign?
Hey pretty lady. What’s your sign?

Again, not a bad plan, but I believe there are better plans.  Here are the two I have come up with:

1. The same plan as Paul’s, but with a slight twist.  Buy a ticket to Vegas and locate a prostitute.  There are people from all over the world looking for prostitutes in Vegas.  Have sex, and within 15 minutes of leaving The It has already moved to someone past the hooker (15 minutes is a rough estimate.  I really have no idea.  I assume the turnaround time for sex in Vegas is pretty short).  Unless it ends up landing on someone in the city of Detroit, it will likely never find its way back to Paul.  If this goes according to plan, there will be a string of infected people placed across the globe.  It may track down and kill someone in Florida, only to have to walk to Italy for the next one.  It’s pretty cost-effective, too: I just checked and you can nab a nonstop flight from Detroit to Las Vegas that costs around $300.
If you want to spend a little more money, book a flight to Amsterdam and hit the red light district.
For good measure, drive a couple hundred miles outside the city a day or two before your flight leaves.  This will ensure that you will not be a nervous wreck in the event of a delay in your flight.  You don’t want to be sitting there on the flight, only to see a naked family member shambling by your window.

It Follows - Old Woman

2. Take to the road as nomads.  Put some space between you and The It and relax for a bit.
The average walking speed of an adult is 3.1 mph.  The It seemed to move slower than that, but that’s what I’ll use for my calculations.  Let’s assume that the average speed in a car is 60 mph (I don’t know if this is correct, but they’ll be driving an older car, and this will help account for stops for food/bathroom, as well as highway construction).  This plan revolves around just taking off for a while.  The goal is to put as much distance between you and The It as you can, while still being responsible for your own mode of transportation.  No getting stuck on planes or boats or anything.  Everything is within your power this way.
I looked at some cities far from Detroit and saw how much time you could buy.  I didn’t dig too in-depth, but I did look at a few.
I always loved Colorado, so my first stop was Denver.  Denver is 1,269 miles from Detroit.  Driving straight through, it would take 0.88 days, while walking would take 17.05 days.  So you could kick back in Denver for roughly 2 weeks before having to skip town.
What about something a bit more remote?  Carson City, Nevada looks really nice, and it’s a town of only 55,000 people.  Why is this important?  The fewer people in a town, the less chance there is of The It blending in.  You could buy yourself 28 days in Carson City before The It came calling.
Let’s go further west.  I’ve never been to California, but it looks lovely.  Carmel-by-the-Sea looks like an incredible city.  More importantly, the population is less than 4,000 people and you could buy yourself 31.85 days.  That’s my pick.  Live in Carmel for a month.
There’s a downside to this one, and it’s obvious: money.  So much money.  You’re essentially homeless for a month.  Maybe you could work out some kind of employment deal in Carmel.  “I’ll work for an entire month, but then I’ll be taking a month off.”  That seems unlikely, and you’re still paying for quite a bit of gas every month (rough estimates put that cost around $250 a month), as well as the constant threat of the old rust bucket falling apart during one of your monthly excursions.
So, really, unless you have a ton of money, this isn’t really feasible.  But it sure is a nice thought.

California dreamin'.
California dreamin’.

For Paul?  I think option 1 is the way to go.  Sure, the knowledge that you will likely have killed numerous people will be on your conscience, but Paul has already determined that he’s willing to make that call.
So, while option 2 is more noble, option 1 is slightly more permanent and much more manageable in terms of cost.  If The It is after you, you’ll have to determine what you can afford and what your conscience can carry.

Do you have other ideas for how to survive?  Leave them in the comments.

While we’re here in the spoiler zone…
I’ve read some people talking about how they didn’t like the ending.  The more I think about it, the more I loved it, and the more I believe it’s the only way they could have ended it.  The idea that you’ll always have to look over your shoulder is a terrifying one.  Sure, Paul passed on the disease, but it could still come for him and Jay at any moment.  Is that person walking behind you The It, or just a harmless neighbor?  You’ll never know, and you’ll always be wondering.  That’s how they live their life now: in constant fear.  Even a nice walk down the street could end in your demise.  It makes the mundane a source of constant terror.  Even though the movie had ended, their horror did not.  True horror is not in eluding the killer, but the knowledge that he could pop back up at any time.  Every moment in your life is plagued by this thought that something is after you.  That something is around the next corner.  If you become complacent, you die.  If you focus on it too much, it will consume you (like Laurie Strode in H20).  That’s the feeling the ending conveyed to me, and one of the main reasons I can’t stop thinking about this film.
Also, while I love the idea of Paul and Jay sharing this curse, I can’t help but wondering how their relationship will hold up.  Jay never seemed completely into it.  Will she find herself feeling trapped in a loveless relationship merely because of this common experience?  “He can help keep me safe, so I guess I’ll stay with him.”  How long will that last?  A year?  Less?  At some point, bitterness will start to creep in and this It will threaten to tear them apart without ever being present.
To be clear, I don’t want to see that movie.  I don’t want a sequel that deals with their relationship issues.  But these characters felt so real, so I can’t help but wondering what would happen to them after the credits rolled.

It Follows: Review



It Follows - Poster

With It Follows being released on Blu Ray last week, have a mish-mash of unconnected thoughts.

– It’s hard to ignore the obvious Halloween references throughout the film.  All the wide shots from a steadicam.  The calm, tree-lined suburban streets with more than a hint of evil lurking.  The pulsing synth.  The fact that the supernatural killer is referred to as “The It” in interviews, which is pretty close to “The Shape”.  I kept waiting for Michael Myers to pop out from behind a row of shrubs.


– With all the style – all the window dressing – it would be easy to miss the fact that this is, at its heart, a slasher movie.  There is an unstoppable force heading right towards you at a slow pace.  It never runs.  It never wavers.  If it is shot, it falls down, gets back up and keeps coming.  Jay is our final girl.  Unlike the stereotypical final girl, she has had sex.  But, like the stereotypical final girl, she has the attention of the killer and does what she has to in order to survive.  The plot of the movie is summed up in the title: It Follows.  And, like our favorite killers, It never stops.

It Follows - School Hallway


– I’ve heard a lot of talk about the unnecessary nudity in this.  It’s true that there is a decent helping of nudity in this, but I would not call it unnecessary.  None of the nudity is alluring.  It is all courtesy of The It, and it is all ugly.  It is all uncomfortable.  The It is, in essence, an STD, and it chooses (at times) to manifest itself in forms of twisted and ugly sexuality.

– I love the slasher aspect to this.  I also love the fact that it is always walking.  There’s never a fear that it’s going to be hiding in the closet, waiting to pop out at you.  It doesn’t try to hide.  There is no fear that it will suddenly be in hiding in the backseat of your car.  It doesn’t work that way.  It doesn’t sneak around.  It just keeps coming.  Like a slasher or a zombie, it is relentless.  You need to sleep.  To rest.  To take a break.  It doesn’t need that.  While you’re sitting still, it’s getting closer.  And there’s nothing you can do about it.  (This also helps protect against cheap jump-scares.)

It Follows - Home Pool

– I like to think that they cast the actor who played Greg because he kind of looked like Johnny Depp, and they wanted a nod to Nightmare on Elm Street.

It Follows - Field

– I mentioned the soundtrack earlier, but I’d like to bring it up again here.  It was composed/performed by electronic artist Disasterpeace, and it sets a perfect tone.  It goes from minimal and creepy synth tones to full-blown noise explosions.  He draws a lot of comparisons to Carpenter’s scores here (I have to believe a lot of that was at the behest of the director), but he is able to put his own spin on it.  I am currently listening to this.  It is storming outside and my back is to an open door.  I am looking over my shoulder every 30 seconds or so, just making sure The It isn’t creeping ever closer.

It Follows - Parking Garage
– It was interesting how differently this thing was dealt with.  Hugh/Jeff (although I thought he looked more like a Ricky/Wesley) had sex with Jay and took off.  His thought process was solid, if a bit cold: if The It kills the person it is tracking, it will then go after the previous infected person.  (An added note: only those infected at some point can see The It.  So, if you haven’t been infected, you will just watch your friend freak out, but you won’t actually see anything.)  If he passed on The It to Jay and stuck around only to watch her die, he would be next on the list, and The It would have a very short trip to kill him.  For Hugh, the disease was one of isolation.
Jay and her friends took it another way.  They looked out for her, whether they actually knew what they were looking for or not.  A couple of them offered to have sex with her, in part because they were horny teenagers, but in part because they really did care about Jay.  For them, the disease brought them together.  I found it interesting the different ways these groups dealt with this killer stalking one of them.  I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of “glass half full or half empty” thing, but with a disturbingly naked and placid killer slowly creeping closer to you.

It Follows - HouseI want to get deeper into this, but I can’t really do that without doing some major spoilers, so I guess I’ll refrain from doing that.  (Look for a post later today that gets into spoilers.) The hype for this movie has grown pretty large, but, just like The Babadook, I feel this movie is able to avoid being a victim of its own hype.  It’s a terrific movie with a great style, a huge nod to the past and a pretty good sense of humor.  It’s not quite the movie I thought it was going to be, but I’m perfectly okay with that.

Rating: 5/5