So I capped off my Halloween watch season with two final movies — last year’s disappointing Japanese remake of “Cube” and this year’s truly unnerving “Smile.”
The new “Cube” wasn’t terrible — it was better than the glut of lackluster low-budget horror films that we fans endlessly contend with. But it’s still a watered-down, somewhat milquetoast facsimile of the devilish 1997 Canadian original. The makers of the new film seem to have consciously traded booby-trap horror for some belabored personal drama. (If you see this movie, you might note that the plot-driving booby traps in the titular futuristic prison get surprisingly little screen time.)
This decision doesn’t pay off too well … the melodrama slows the film down without making the characters any more engaging. And the overused flashbacks disrupt the claustrophobic setting that is supposed to be essential here. Maybe this script was written to better anticipate the expectations of Japanese audiences? Or maybe the movie simply had a limited special effects budget — the deadly traps that we do get to see in action are depicted by CGI that is a little unconvincing.
“Smile,” on the other hand, was scary as hell. Yes, it bears a striking resemblance to another well known horror film (which I won’t name, as that might be a general spoiler). And some of the twists and jump scares are easy to predict (or were spoiled by the trailer).
But … goddam. This movie worked. I can’t knock a horror film that had me genuinely scared. The supernatural plot device is undeniably creepy, and writer-director Parker Finn wisely employs methodical pacing to gradually ratchet up the tension. Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon!) was also convincing as the protagonist, and created a sympathetic character to root for.
“Smile” is strong stuff. I’d definitely recommend it.