Daniel Ketchelos — Staff Writer
It’s spooky season, which means Halloween, horror movies, and heathenism. Alright, maybe not heathenism, but with spooky season afoot, how should people be interacting with horror movies? The recent psychological horror movie release, Smile, will serve as a case study for the current state of horror films and expectations for them in the future.
Smile follows psychologist Rose Cotter in her pursuit of solving a line of ‘cursed’ involuntary suicide cases surrounding paranormal activity. Tension arises when Cotter is ‘cursed’ in a session through her client who involuntarily commits suicide because of the paranormal entity. Cotter then inherits the curse from her deceased client.
The entity, who smiles menacingly at its victims before inflicting psychological and physical pain, continues to destroy Cotter’s personal life until she has been removed from all personal relationships except for that with her police officer ex-boyfriend. He then helps Cotter in her search to unveil the mystery behind the haunting entity.
While Smile has numerous jump-scares, gore, and haunting visuals, it does lack in the overall narrative. There is little substance to be found in Smile. It’s driven by the plot to uncover the mystery behind the hauntings, but outside of that plot, there are little to no subplots or underlying narratives that can be taken from it.
This lack of substance creates a forgettable story once the movie ends. There aren’t many standout scenes from the movie that will last in the future. Though it is scary and intense while viewing, the film lacks any real takeaways.
The same problem is evident in other recent releases, such as Netflix’s 2022 rendition of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Both Smile and Texas Chainsaw Massacre rely heavily on jump-scares and gore to keep the attention of the audience. A well-written and produced film should not have to rely on these tactics to capture the audience’s attention.
Films can be scary without relying on these gimmicks. Two classic examples of horror films that achieve this without relying on these tricks are The Shining (1980) and Silence of the Lambs (1991). These films portray horrifying scenes by asking cultural questions and exploring issues that plague the world. I think the biggest issue with modern horror films, like Smile, is that they lack these underlying subtextual narratives.
Another problem with modern horror is the lack of hope portrayed in the movies. Often, a hopeful ending is set up in the story, but then it is ripped from the audience to show that there is no hope for those in the story, and all will be lost and destroyed. These bleak endings provide no deeper message to the audience and push the post-modern concept of nihilism in all aspects of life.
Smile offers plenty of gore-filled entertainment for those who seek it. If you are searching for a scary film for the Halloween season, then I would advise looking towards classic horror films that provide more substance than the cut-and-paste formula presented by Smile and other contemporary horror films.