Jumpscares have become a defining aspect of horror movies in recent years. The new addition to the genre, Smile, is yet another example that begs the question: does true horror need jumpscares?
Smile follows Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) who begins seeing an evil entity after witnessing her patient take her own life—which transfers the curse from one person to another. This being can take the form of anyone and reveals itself by smiling, creepily at that. Once Cotter is cursed, she is determined to find a way to rid herself of the being without continuing the chain of deaths it causes.
The film itself starts off strong with multiple jumpscares and a genuinely interesting concept that avoids just recreating The Ring’s infamous transferable curse and 7-day-death-countdown tropes.
Where this film falters is in its story. In order to try to rid herself of the curse, the film takes a Scooby-Doo mystery meets buddy-cop angle as Cotter and her police ex-boyfriend (Kyle Gallner) get down to the bottom of the curse. Throughout the second act of the film, questions such as “how did this curse originate?” and “is there a way to permanently kill the being?” are posed. Are they ever answered? No.
Instead, we get a half-done detective story and some surface-level message about family trauma. As if this wasn’t enough, there are characters that are introduced and then completely tossed aside or forgotten about as the movie heads towards its finale.
The film attempts to fill this void in the story-telling by utilizing jumpscares. In this aspect, the movie is successful in delivering a quick shock or an unsettling moment when necessary. But, with a concept that has the potential to be truly scary, a few good jumpscares shouldn’t be relied upon to make a horror movie successful.
This has been a recent trend that just keeps snowballing. It seems that it’s part of the horror genre rule book (I’m sure there’s one somewhere) to include at least three jumpscares throughout the movie! It’s come to the point where you either love them for the shock and rising heart-rate or hate them for the predictability and cheap scare.
This isn’t to say that jumpscares are useless or mediocre, a successful one can diffuse the tension, hook the audience, or make a film even more memorable. But, there’s a fine line between utilizing jumpscares and depending on them.
A true horror movie should build upon its story, one that will already incite real, genuine fear. Then, the movie can take advantage of a couple good jumpscares to make a moment that much more scary.
This can be seen in classic horror films but becomes rarer as the years go by. If Smile is the pinnacle of modern horror, then I don’t want it.
If you’re a regular film fan, it’s not worth the $12 movie ticket. The genre has had far better to offer this year with movies like Barbarian, Fresh, and The Black Phone. But this movie is one that fans of the horror genre will watch and love, weak story-telling and all. It’s far from groundbreaking but there’s a jumpscare or two bound to land its mark.
Carla Rubio is an English major on the Writing and Rhetoric track with intentions of going to law school. Film studies to her is something to look forward to in the midst of all the essays and cases and research papers.