This would upset anyone, but it especially bothers Rose, since Rose’s own mother died by suicide many years earlier. The lingering trauma and the fear and stigma surrounding it form the film’s most intelligent thematic thread: Rose’s fiance Trevor (Jessie T. Usher) admits to researching hereditary mental illness online, and harsh terms such as “nutjobs”, “crazies” and “head cases” are used to describe mentally ill people throughout the film. The idea that she may not actually be afflicted by the same entity that killed Laura, and that her hallucinations, lost time, and emotional volatility may have an internal cause, seems to bother Rose more than the concept of being cursed. The people around Rose, including Trevor, her therapist Dr. Northcott (Robin Weigert), her boss Dr. Desai (Kal Penn), and her sister Holly (Gillian Zinzer), certainly seem to believe the problem is more neurochemical than supernatural—that is, until it’s far too late.
The only one who believes in Rose is her ex, Joel (Kyle Gallner), an officer assigned to Laura’s case. Their tentative reunion opens the door to the film’s mystery element, which makes up much of “Smile’s” long, but not overly long, 115-minute runtime. The film’s story follows many of your typical beats of a supernatural horror mystery, escalating from a quick Google (the Internet-age equivalent of a good old-fashioned library scene) to a personal interview with a traumatized, imprisoned survivor of whatever this malevolent entity actually is. A cluster of similar events in Brazil is briefly referenced, opening the door to a sequel.
“Smile’s” greatest asset is its relentless, oppressive ugliness: This is a film where children and pets are as vulnerable as adults, and the horror elements are gory and disturbing to match the dark themes. This gentle sensibility is enhanced by Bacon’s harrowing, vulnerable performance as Rose: At one point she screams at Trevor, “I’m not crazy!”, then mumbles an apology and looks down at her shoes in shame. At another, her sly smile at her nephew’s birthday party stands as both a somber counterpoint to the sickly grin the device’s victims see before they die (hence the film’s title), as well as a relatable moment for viewers who have reluctantly trudged through similar gatherings in the middle of a depressive episode.