Horror Review: Smile (2022)

After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, a psychiatrist becomes increasingly convinced she is being threatened by an uncanny entity.

This films marketing team did a great job of getting publicity, so well in fact this became a ‘must see’ movie.

My curiosity always gets the better of me so I knew it was only a matter of time before I saw this and in all honesty I really wanted to like it. My problem was, was that when I watched the trailer I really didn’t think much of it, it just did not impress me at all, but I still wanted to give it a try.

I was hoping that the film itself would change that and once it finished, well it sadly hadn’t. I was very much left with a ‘meh’ feeling. The whole thing was predictable and in all honesty, well it just bored me. Despite a couple of admittedly cool moments in the film it just seemed to fall flat.

I think one of the films problems was that it tried too hard in certain areas such as trying to cram in way too many jump scares, because of this it had very little impact as the film went on. This was a shame as some scenes did well to create tension but you already knew what was coming.

I think one of my major problems was that the whole thing just felt generic, when a film is just so, well, generic. When a film is like that it just doesn’t hold my attention well and this just screamed generic. Films like this though do serve as gateway films for some, so there is that.

For me the biggest success of “Smile” was it’s advertising and marketing, unfortunately in my opinion the film just didn’t live up to the hype.

If you want to see the “Smile” trailer then just click on the video below:

Miscellaneous facts about the film:

A couple of days before the September 30, 2022 release, actors from the film showed up at various baseball games, sitting behind home plate dead still and smiling while staring into the camera, unmoving despite fans in the audience being understandably concerned, while wearing Smile shirts. Another soon appeared in the background with the crowd during the Today show.

Paramount originally planned for the film, which had a low budget of $17 million, to be a streaming-only release on Paramount+. The film was screened for test audiences and scored much higher than anticipated, prompting Paramount to give the film a theatrical release in the United States. It grossed $22 million over its opening weekend, which Paramount’s distribution chief Chris Aronson said “exceeded our wildest expectations.”

The smiles in the film are all natural and not enhanced with visual effects. The studio even asked if they could be tweaked, but Parker Finn stuck to his guns as he wanted them to be grounded in their creepiness.

The film was originally titled “Something’s Wrong With Rose” before being renamed “Smile.”

Parker Finn told the actors who would be smiling in the film that he wanted “dead eyes that do not match an incredibly uncomfortable wide tooth-bearing smile, that it was meant to feel predatory in nature.”

When the Paramount logo is shown in the trailer, it is immediately flipped upside down so that the arch of stars resembles a smile.

At 1hr 21 mins.) There’s a little Easter egg as Rose looks at her text thread with Trevor. His ID picture at the top shows him smiling while an earlier glance at the thread has a non-smiling pic.

The mother growing in size is meant to drive home Rose’s feeling that she’s back to being a child again in the presence of her mother. The illusion was created in part with a rebuilt hallway at a smaller scale and part with the monstrous double played by Kevin Keppy.

Parker Finn knew from the start that he wanted the film’s title card to be very anxiety-inducing. An earlier version failed the Harding test which examines how triggering an image is to photosensitive viewers.

The cursed “smile people” wear bright, pastel colors while Rose wears dark, contrasting colors, showing the difference between happy and sad.

When asked if the smile curse is beatable, or is the fight to stop it hopeless, writer and director Parker Finn revealed: “It’s a good question. I like to think that this thing, it sort of enjoys toying with its victims and being as elusive and slippery as possible. I like to think there probably is a way to beat it, but I don’t know. I mean, it’s also quite inescapable.”

Title screen doesn’t appear until 13 minutes into the film.

While talking about his creative process, Parker Finn says he wanted “to create a film that feels like an escalating nightmare”, and that happens because “the evil in the film uses a smile as a mask to hide its true intentions.”

1 hr 48 mins.) Parker Finn says the face is a “true look at the evil thing that’s been hiding behind all the smiles.” They called the entity Lollipop thus explaining the use of The Chordettes’ “Lollipop” at the start of the end credits and this is what happens at the end of every cycle as the beast physically enters the victim to make them commit suicide.

The film opened at #1 domestically with a strong $22.6 million, but managed to play strongly through October and November, buoyed by solid reviews and word-of-mouth. It fell only 18% in its second weekend, the best hold of any wide release in 2022, and the second best hold for a horror/thriller film after Get Out (2017). It stayed in the top ten for over two months and crossed $100 million.

Parker Finn offered up a few additional details on how the smile curse works beyond what is shown in the movie. “The smile definitely hooked me from the very beginning. I love that inherent contradiction that exists within it. Smiles are obviously designed to be a friendly gesture, something warm, it’s what we associate with them, but in reality, I think we also use smiles every day to mask what we’re really feeling, and that was definitely something that was a motif that was running through the film, and I wanted to see if I could take that and turn it on [its] head and let the evil in the film wear a smile as a mask to create the promise of a threat or something dangerous, something menacing and see if audiences might get freaked out by that.”

The film explores several themes and devices common to the horror genre, such as trauma, grief, and guilt. As the audience follows through the lens of protagonist Dr. Rose Cotter, she becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator, further blurring lines between delusions and reality, an area upon which she should, in theory, have a firm grasp as a clinical psychologist. The concept and effects of trauma is explored at various levels. On a clinical level, Rose may be seen as experiencing vicarious trauma (wherein therapists experience trauma as a result of treating their patients’ trauma) as she treats patients. On a more metaphorical level, the cyclical nature of trauma is seen through the antagonist monster’s process of causing one victim to spread their trauma to other victims. The deeper extent of personal trauma is shown through the multiple endings experienced by Rose as she confronts her more fully revealed past trauma, only to be forced to relive it.

Parker Finn revealed that the gas station kill (shown on security footage) was intended to play “way bigger” than expected so there would be a real impact. “Of course, someone dying violently is never a thing to laugh at, but because there’s something so evil going on we wanted to lean into the gleeful absurdity of it all.” he said.

Several shots rotate upside down, to reinforce that the conventional concept of a smile as an expression of happiness or politeness instead turns on its head, and becomes a sadistic expression of evil.

In addition to being difficult to design and execute, the overhead “one shot” of the ambulance arriving that then pans up to enter the hospital room was meant to suggest “something omniscient” coming for Rose.

The Police statement shown around the middle of the movie has a PDF417 barcode on it. When decoded, it reveals a hidden message. The decoded message says: ‘The cache is located at north three six degrees zero six point zero two three west one one five degrees zero one point seven three three. Hint: guard rail.’ the coordintes point to a location in Las Vegas, right near a guard rail.

Director Parker Finn said that when hiring Amalgamated Dynamics for the practical effects, the Zoom call with the two company owners boiled down to him saying ‘you guys don’t understand, you changed my childhood. This is the reason that I wanted to make movies,’ and them geeking out for two hours.

At 1hr 59 mins.) The dangling head gag was part of the original script, and it’s “something that everyone around me was trying to wrap their head around.” Parker Finn had to create storyboards to ensure everyone was picturing the same thing.

Parker Finn and his team found great success in that pursuit for a number of reasons, a big one being the type of smile they landed on. How exactly did they settle on what was shown in the final film, Finn explained: “It all started while I was writing the script. I was trying different things in the mirror myself, trying to figure out what might work. And then when we’re on set, certainly people came in very prepared with what they had been working on, and it was just about kind of standing a few feet away from each other and smiling back and forth until we can dial it in and get it just right. I’m really, really pleased with it, and it was also really important to me that those were practical performance based smiles because I think that adds a level of uncanniness to them.”

When asked if he had ever formally named his evil entity, Parker Finn stated, “We had some nicknames during production, but for me, for the purposes of the story, it was always really important that we don’t define it, we don’t stick it in any kind of box because I think that the unknown is always much scarier than when you pull the veil off of it. And I also love the ambiguity that the film is living in. There’s something really interesting about taking something so internal and psychological, and then something so external and bombastic and kind of braiding them together until they’re kind of indistinguishable. And I’m hoping that that will go the extra distance to get under audiences’ skins.”

At 1:30:24, Rose’s crescent earring is facing in an “unhappy” face frown.

A tie-in with the Craiyon text-to-image generator involved AI generation of images of nightmarish smiles.

Unlike typical demons which possess a vessel and attempt to stay with it indefinitely, this demon acts as a type of living virus transferring from one host to the next. It can be assumed that it does this to sustain itself, consuming the souls of its victims for strength and power before moving on to the next target.

When Rose gets coffee at work following the patient’s suicide, her mug has a smiley face.

It Follows (2014) was an inspiration for the film, although writer and director Parker Finn didn’t admit to it on the commentary.

It was important for writer/director Parker Finn to take the tragedy from Rose’s childhood and “hang it as like a black cloud” over her from beginning to end.

Beyond the visions of people with frightening grins, there’s bloodstains shaped like smiles, disturbing pictures of smiles, even the logo gag in the trailer.

People affected by the phenomena usually see the people around them with unnervingly wide grins. Not to mention the death threats and occasional neck breaking. The Smile Entity’s form features a sort of layered Cheshire Cat Grin, like a fractal made of toothy mouths.

Parker Finn thinks humour is very important in a horror film.

In a 2022 interview, Parker Finn detailed a few of his inspirations for the film: “Some films that were on my brain when I was making this in a big way was certainly Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and how that sort of positions us with that character. The camera movement and blocking in that. Todd Haynes’ Safe (1995) is a movie that I was constantly thinking about during this. The way that it places you in the character’s anxiety and just keeps ratcheting that up as she goes down that rabbit hole. That was part of it. And then Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure (1997). Just the sort of nightmarish atmosphere of that film, throughout that investigation, was something that was definitely on mind while I was making this.”

Sosie Bacon (who plays Rose) is the daughter of Kevin Bacon.

their victims with trauma for days, both are essentially unstoppable and get away with everything they do, and both take extreme amounts of sadism in causing their victims to suffer. Negative reviews for the film also pointed out the absurd similarities to films like The Ring (2002), It Follows (2015), Truth or Dare (2018), and Malignant (2021).

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