APRIL 1, 2012
Just throw the damn thing away!!! That was my thought for at least 90% of Smile’s third act, once our characters have already figured out that their new camera is haunted and whenever someone is photographed with it, they die. Unless I missed it, there’s no attempt to even break it, with its magical powers preventing destruction or whatever. They just hold onto it, and worse, they even use it again! Come on!
Needless to say, our characters are pretty stupid, even going by horror movie standards. Even the main girl (more tolerable than the others) falls victim to the most blatant bit of theft I’ve ever seen – the thief takes her original (non-magical) camera from her so easily I actually thought she was handing it over willingly, which made the fact that it takes her like an hour to realize it’s gone even harder to swallow. Since her character’s obsession with snapping photos is a major plot point, you’d think she’d notice that her camera was just swiped practically right out of her hands. It’d be like me waking up today and going “Wait, I think I forgot to watch a horror movie yesterday.”
But neither her or any of the others are as awful as Tommy, the group’s requisite jerk, who goes above and beyond the “requirements” of such roles – William Zabka would probably be disgusted with this asshole’s behavior. He inexplicably gets angry when the group asks him about a missing member (who left and TOLD HIM to tell the others where she was going), plays prank after prank, takes a photo of himself and another girl on purpose after being informed that the camera was “bad”, etc. Naturally he’s one of the last to die, so we have to suffer through his shit for most of the movie.
And it’s a shame because if they took him out the movie would at least be mildly enjoyable, and it still is when he’s confined to the sidelines. The hook is that everyone dies via something else in the photo with the person, so you get some weird deaths like being struck by lightning (because there was a big flash in the photo) or impaled on a tree because that was the only other thing in the shot. So the deaths are at least sort of unique, and even though most are off-screen (the directors seems to be trying to chalk it up to a slasher at first), at least it provides a variety of mangled corpses instead of the usual mere stabbings and such.
It also has a unique flavor, being shot in Morocco. In fact I wish they had stayed in the city for more of the movie; they’re there for a while, and there are some brief bits in the desert, but at least half the movie takes place in the woods, the most indistinguishable location in all of cinema. The (local?) actors still separate the look from that of a later Friday the 13th movie, but it’s a shame they couldn’t milk their more distinctive locations for more of the runtime.
They could have gotten more time with Armand Assante as well. Top-billed for less than ten minutes of screentime, his character makes no real sense as presented, and I couldn’t help but wonder if there was another scene or two we were supposed to see that would have clarified his actions, as he is a hero in his first scene, a villain in his second, and finally a tragic hero in his last. Of course, it doesn’t help that most of his backstory is filled in via newspaper, which would be fine if they didn’t linger on shots of articles that are clearly not related to his character and/or the events of the movie in the slightest. Take a look!
The weirdest thing about these (besides the fact that she is accessing them on her laptop yet we see what is clearly printed pages) is that each and every one of them are held for an excessive amount of time – some for 20 seconds – as if they WANTED to give us time to read the article instead of just the headline and/or look at the picture. A lot of movies have these sort of half-assed props, but you need to freeze-frame the movie to notice the gibberish or wholly unrelated text. With these, I had time to read up on Russian construction and the death of an artist as the movie played in real time. I was also confused that they tell us about the Assante character’s death right from the start, when he shows up later alive with no fanfare. So I guess he’s a ghost, but that should have been something we realize later when we get the whole story, not before we even know who he is. The fact that he’s dead is the 2nd thing we learn about him!
The scenario could be used for a fun movie, but this ain’t it. The cheap production value, mostly unlikable characters, and confusing approach to the back-story undo the goodwill that the concept and silly deaths had earned. This was the first film for writer/producer/director Francesco Gasperoni; he has since made a 3D thriller called Parking Lot that sounds like a blend of P2 and one of those (usually bad) reality horror movies – hopefully he has learned from his mistakes. Or at least hired a better editor.
What say you?