At The Movies: Amusing whodunnit See How They Run, creepy Smile

Sam Rockwell (left) and Saoirse Ronan in See How They Run. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY CO

See How They Run (PG13)

98 minutes, opens on Thursday

3 stars

The story: London’s West End, 1953. A murder most foul is committed backstage during a reception celebrating the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Whodunnit?

See How They Run is not only a movie about a homicide set within a play about a homicide. It is also about the 1945 manslaughter that inspired this long-running stage production.

It is very meta.

British director Tom George is not as clever as he thinks. But his retro murder mystery, a feature debut, is certainly a diverting trifle that both pays homage to and spoofs the hoary genre tropes.

The victim is Adrien Brody’s crass Hollywood film-maker, in town to negotiate adapting The Mousetrap.

“It’s always the most unlikable character that gets killed first,” he explains in a self-aware post-death narration.

The dramatis personae all have a motive for wanting him dead. There is a young Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), star of the original show, and the fun is in picking out such real-life personalities from their fictional counterparts like the pompous screenwriter (David Oyelowo).

Even more fun is the classic odd-couple partnership of Sam Rockwell’s jaded, alcoholic Scotland Yard detective Inspector Stoppard and Saoirse Ronan’s eager chatterbox constable. The name Stoppard references playwright Tom Stoppard, who parodied The Mousetrap in The Real Inspector Hound (1968), while Ronan is funny and endearing as a wide-eyed rookie starstruck by the assembled showbiz glitterati.

The two coppers are put on the case. They go sleuthing, gathering finally with the suspects at a country manor amid a snowstorm as if they were in an Agatha Christie story – which they are, sort of. The corpses pile up, as do the theatre in-jokes.

Hot take: Agatha Christie would be amused.

Smile (M18)

Sosie Bacon in Smile. PHOTO: UIP

115 minutes, opens on Thursday

3 stars

The story: After witnessing a patient’s bizarre suicide, a clinical psychiatrist believes she is stalked by a supernatural evil that is driving a cycle of similar deaths.

The daughter of Hollywood couple Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Sosie Bacon is hugely sympathetic in her feature lead debut. She plays Dr Rose Cotter, whose investigation into the mysterious occurrences leads to the discovery that the entity is a curse she has just one week to shake off if she is to survive. How, though, is the answer she must seek.

Writer-director Parker Finn’s Smile – based on the American film-maker’s 2020 award-winning short Laura Hasn’t Slept – is Ringu (1998) meets It Follows (2014), but with a smile.

A gruesome grin fixes upon the faces of the doomed. It is the creepiest image even if you have seen the widely circulated teaser a hundred times, and it is this psychological horror’s visual hook.

The movie effectively exploits the primal unease of a perverted smile for jump scares. Increasingly, Rose is menaced by smiling apparitions wherever she turns, and the psychologist finds her own sanity questioned – with only her detective former flame (Kyle Gallner) willing to help.

There is no escape. The camera itself is like a malignant presence, watching and encircling her — while probably also smiling.

Hers is a nightmare of stress, paranoia, sustained panic and eerie terror. It is an unnerving experience so gruelling in its intensity, you may not notice the narrative about mental illness and inherited trauma — an allegory on masking pain behind a smile — ceases to make sense.

Hot take: Behold the face of terror.

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