Smile and My Best Friend's Exorcism entertaining horror films, Amsterdam is fascinating

Haunting Smile one of year's best

2022 has been a good year for the horror film, as new twists on familiar tropes have proved effective, while more than a few innovative features have graced the screen. However, for me Parker Finn's Smile proves to be the highwater mark. It not only provides some effective scares, but more importantly, burrows into your mind, thanks to its effective use of symbolism and metaphor to explore the impact of trauma and guilt to horrifying and poignant effect.

Therapist Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is the victim of a horrible curse, the effects of which she starts to experience when she witnesses one of her patients commit suicide. Soon, she begins to see people others can't, all of them smiling manically and wishing her harm.

On the surface, this seems like a silly premise, but it morphs into something horrific as Cotter uncovers the reason behind the curse is related to an unresolved trauma from her past. The scars manifest themselves in a variety of frightening ways, forcing our heroine to either deal with her pain or die. Bacon puts herself through the ringer to marvelous effect, giving us a character we hope will find the peace she deserves. Haunting and moving, Smile speaks to those who long to wrestle with the demons inside, yet don't know how. In theaters.

Exorcism an entertaining '80s throwback

If you're a child of the '80s, you'd do well to check out My Best Friend's Exorcism, a homage to the pop culture and horror films of the era. Fun, witty and just scary enough to satisfy fans of the genre, this brisk lark of a movie has a solid foundation provided by Elsie Fisher and Amiah Miller, the two actors starring as best friends Abby and Gretchen, respectively. They're quite happy mooning over Boy George, watching MTV and eating Pop Rocks, that is until Gretchen becomes possessed by a demon when they visit a – you guessed it – cabin in the woods.

Allusions to The Exorcist, The Evil Dead and other seminal fight flicks come fast and furious, buoyed by a soundtrack of recognizable '80s hits that keep things from getting too heavy. Great support is provided by Christopher Lowell as a bodybuilding evangelist who knows just enough about performing an exorcism to get him and Abby in trouble. Exorcism isn't the sort of film you're likely to return to, but it's a pleasant enough diversion that will get you in the spirit of Halloween and maybe have you searching your streaming services for Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street and their ilk. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

Off-beat Amsterdam worth your patience

Ambitious, challenging and invigorating, David O. Russell's Amsterdam takes a little-known historic event and uses it as the basis for a seemingly convoluted mystery that winds up being a paean to friendship and patriotism. Sporting perhaps the best cast of the year and a dense production design that immerses the viewer into America of the 1930s, the film tasks the audience with remembering the narrative thread, despite the plot's numerous tangents.

Burt, Harold and Valerie (Christian Bale, John David Washington and Margot Robbie), inseparable friends since they met in a medical unit in WW I, find themselves mixed up in a murder plot involving a retired army veteran that dovetails into a vast conspiracy that may lead to the overthrow of the government. Along the way, a myriad of eccentrics, played by Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock and Timothy Olyphant, among others, stand in their way of trying to clear their name and protecting retired General Gil Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro).

Amidst all the narrative switchbacks and flashbacks, the theme of loyalty emerges as the throughline, while a plea to care for veterans is prevalent from the first minute to the last. Some have found Amsterdam cumbersome and confused. I couldn't get over how stimulating and fascinating it proved to be. In theaters.

About The Author

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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