Directed by Francesco Gasperoni
Hello, everyone. Welcome to another installment of “Good Idea, Lousy Execution Theater”. Our feature presentation today is Smile, a horror movie from Italy about European college kids on vacation falling victim to supernatural forces that claim the lives of anyone photographed by a cursed instant camera. I’m afraid you won’t find much here to smile about.
Eight friends are on school holiday together in Morocco. I found myself a bit puzzled at times as to whether the movie had been dubbed in English or if every actor just had a different, odd sounding accent. Either/or, when they meet a Moroccan nomad and ask him if he speaks English, he’ll speak clearer English than any of them.
Clarissa is a wannabe photojournalist. After getting her camera stolen by gypsies, she finds herself in a curio shop operated by cigar-chomping Armand Assante, whom the movie has already established in the opening prologue was himself a forensic photographer long enough ago to make viewers know something sinister must be up since he doesn’t appear to have aged a day. He gifts her with an old instant camera, even loads her up with some film, and encourages her to take lots of pictures of her friends. Hold on a sec. This suddenly sounds like an episode of Friday the 13th: The Series.
The friends then decide to venture out into the wilds of Morocco to follow up on some local folklore regarding ghosts and demons said to haunt the area. So basically, even if one of them wasn’t in possession of a demonic death-dealing camera, they were still bound and determined to find a way to get killed supernaturally.
The idea of a Final Destination-ish fright flick about people being killed off if their picture is taken by an unholy camera is not a bad idea. I’d swear I’ve seen something before with the exact same premise; it may have actually been an episode of “Friday the 13th: The Series”. Movies about soul-sucking or life-taking objects are nothing new. I’m sure if we all decided to take turns naming off such films we could come up with a healthy list and most of them would be more fun than Smile.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I need only one to summarize why Smile fails: pacing. After about 15 minutes of what I took for slow build, it became apparent that there was going to be much more slow than build. Watching these people on holiday was about as thrilling as sifting through someone else’s actual vacation photos. The dark lords of spirit photography do not visit these vacationers with enough frequency to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Compounding the problem is there being no consistency to the amount of time between when they get their photo taken and when death will shake them like a Polaroid. A day later, a few hours later, the very next second, the forces of darkness are clearly not constrained by our mortal concepts of punctuality.
Death tends to come in the form of impalements by objects. Quite ironic that for a movie about people dying after being photographed, their deaths far too often take place off camera.
“A film recognized as being of NATIONAL CULTURAL INTEREST by Italy’s MINISTRY FOR CULTURAL ASSETS AND ACTIVITIES”
Not sure why seeing that graphic appear on the screen during the opening credits made me crack up like it did. It would be even funnier thinking about it 80 minutes later when I tried to comprehend how a horror movie set in Morocco about people dying via supernatural means after having their photograph taken by a cursed instant camera could be considered in the “national cultural interest” of Italy. Not exactly 8 1/2. More like 1 1/2.
1 1/2 out of 5