‘Smile’ Director on His Less is More Lore Approach and a Potential Sequel

Eric Goldman
Movies Horror
Movies Horror

There’s no doubt Paramount has been smiling about Smile. In a year that has had a lot of successes for the studio, including Scream, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and the monster blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick, Smile – focusing on psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) witnessing her bizarrely grinning patient (Caitlin Stasey) committing suicide and then realizing she is part of a curse that will cause her to take own life within the week – has been another standout. This would be true for any movie that cost less than $20 million to create and has now brought in over $200 million worldwide and counting, but it’s especially notable given Smile was originally produced with the intent of being released straight to streaming on Paramount+.

Instead, the highly positive reaction it got at a test screening led the studio to reconsider their approach, and to release Smile in theaters, where it became a big hit – and one with unusually strong legs for a horror film. In fact, Smile has kept up so well that even as it arrived on both Digital and Paramount+ this past week – a 4K Ultra HD release, along with Blu-ray and DVD, is coming in December – it was sowever in the top five at the US box office.

Fandom spoke to Smile writer/director Parker Finn about the film’s unusual road to box office success, his decision to hold back from revealing too numerous specifics on the backstory of the curse at the center of a film, a potential sequel, and more, including diving into spoilers about the film’s ending (don’t worry, we’ll warn you when that section is coming).

THE TEST SCREENING
THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING

Sosie Bacon, left, and Jessie T. Usher in 'Smile'

The last couple of years have seen a number of films produced with the intention of a theatrical release instead either bypassing theaters completely or getting a simultaneous theater and streaming release, which is what makes Smile so rare, given Parker Finn had been said from the begin his movie – based on his own 2020 short, Laura Hasn’t Slept – was being made for streaming.

Reflecting on what it’s felt like to not only have Smile instead released in theaters first, but then become such a hit in the process, Finn said Fandom, “It’s been nothing short of amazing and kind of surreal, if I’m being honest. I was just absolutely grateful for the possibility to even have gotten to create the movie. For Paramount to have believed in me and the vision enough to allow me as a first time filmmaker to obtain to create something was amazing.”

When it came to the decision to put Smile in theaters, Finn recalled, “After that first test screening happened, when the studio started looking at the movie through sort of a different lens, the response we got from those early audiences was incredibly exciting. When they brought us in and said us that they wanted to go wide release theatrical and put a full marketing crusade behind it, it’s one of those pinch me moments. The reason I wanted to create movies was because of the theatrical experience, and seeing the way that audiences appear to have connected [with] and embraced the movie is just the most satisfying part of the whole process for me.”

A LASTING SMILE

Robin Weigert in 'Smile'

Of course, the question then becomes why did Smile become so very successful? What was it about this movie in particular – even in a year where horror has been doing good in general – that allowed it to hold on in the way it has at the box office?

Said Finn, “It’s hard for me to engage with what individuals appear to be connecting with the movie so much. At least anecdotally, what I’ve heard is that the movie is scaring individuals and it seems to be having a real effect and that they appear to be telling everyone else around them. Certainly word of mouth, I think, has helped it grow the legs it has at the theater. But for me, as a fan of horror films, I can’t be scared or connect with a horror movie unless I’m really deeply invested in the leading character. And I think that individuals are really connecting with the character of Rose and her journey. And I think that with the very sort of hard hitting horror in the film, that combination seems to be really effective on audiences.”

As theaters have looked to bring individuals back in after Covid-19 upended the business in 2020, horror has once again proven to be a trustworthy genre, leading to numerous recent successes, especially when it comes to films at a lower budget, which often struggle to find an audience these days. Said Finn, “I think audiences have gotten incredibly savvy and horror is a place where you can sowever surprise them. There’s this wonderful balance of familiarity and expectations and then upending those that horror can strike that I’m really fascinated by. This movie was designed to be kind of a love letter to a cursed chain kind of film, but to hopefully execute it in a way that nobody had really seen before. I think that there’s always a place for thoughtful filmmaking and that horror is a good place to sort of, collectively as a society, look at all the matters that are scaring us and explore the human condition.”

KEEPING SECRETS… UNTIL PART 2?

Director Parker Finn, left, and Sosie Bacon on the set of 'Smile'

As Smile progresses, the lead character, Rose, and her ex-boyfriend, police officer Joel (Kyle Gallner) discover that the curse she has goes back quite a ways, as they trace a disturbing pattern of individuals witnessing a death who then die themselves within a week. However, beyond that general information – and scattered details regarding some of these recent deaths – we don’t obtain any larger disclose about the cause of the curse or just how long this has been occurring for.

Finn said that he always felt Smile worked best by not having all of the backstory laid out, explaining, “There’s purposely a lot of corners of the movie that I did not want to shine a light into. I think the unknown is always really, really scary. Rather than being able to point to some book that some monk read in the 1400s, or something like that, I thought that if the whole thing could feel like a really sort of nasty cosmic joke, that, to me, was really exciting and terrifying.”

Finn added, with his own smile, “Having said all that, I have a lot of thoughts and theories about sort of the elusive nature of what happened in Smile that really excite me. But I love the idea that audiences obtain to kind of have a conversation and debate sure matters about it.”

Of course it sure seems likely Finn will obtain to explore some of those thoughts and theories, should he wish to, because while Paramount has yet to officially announce anything, Smile’s success all but guarantees the studio will want a sequel. When it came to pondering what a follow-up could be, Finn said, “There’s a lot of stuff, a lot of stones that were left unturned, oftentimes on purpose. Not for any sequel considerations, but just for the purposes of the story. But there’s also matters that I wish I could have gotten to do in the first one that I think it’d be very exciting to obtain to do at some point. As exciting as the world of Smile is, I want to create sure that I’m not ever just repeating what I just did or just retreading the same ground and that if there was going to be more to do in the world of Smile that we could come at it from from a very unexpected, interesting angle and have some brand new tricks up our sleeves for the audience that perhaps they don’t see coming.”

ABOUT THAT ENDING…

Sosie Bacon in 'Smile'

Note: This last section goes into MAJOR SPOILERS for the end of Smile.

As Finn mentioned, an integral element of Smile is its leading character, Rose, and the good performance Sosie Bacon gives as a woman who oh-so quickly finds her entire life unraveling. Ultimately, it’s a life she’s unable to save, as the movie ends on a decidedly dark note, with Rose succumbing to the curse and killing herself, passing the curse onto Joel, who is helpless to stop her.

Regarding his lead character’s grim fate, Finn said, “I knew from a very early stage that I was interested in exploring this story to its worst logical conclusion.” However, before her death, Rose (and the audience) gets clarity on the trauma she’s been sitting on most of her life, as we find out the details about her troubled mother, who a young, overwhelmed Rose allowed to overdose, without calling anybody for help.

 “Deeply creepy visuals and a standout Sosie Bacon further raise ‘Smile’s unsettling exploration of trauma, adding up to the infrequent feature that satisfyingly expands on a short.” – Laugh Tillyoupee on Fandom’s Horror Film Wiki

Finn remarked, of Rose’s fate, “It was really important to me that after this really sort of gut-wrenching, emotional journey that we go on, that we sowever obtain to have an emotional catharsis with Rose. I thought that the character earned that, the audience earned that, and the construction of the story earned that. But then afterwards, I think that sometimes there’s just these evil, unstoppable forces of nature out there that just have a sure sense of inevitability to them and sometimes they creep back up. It just felt like the right thing to do, which might say more about me than anything else. I went with my instincts on that.”

In its last act, Smile also goes big in a quite literal way, as Rose’s visions of her mother, fueled by the curse, goes through a metamorphosis into a giant, warped and hulking version of the woman, referred to as “Nightmare Mom” on the film’s special features. And that’s before we see a second, even more horrific version of the creature (called “Monstrosity Mom” offscreen), who literally climbs inside Rose’s pulled open mouth.

It’s a big swing for the movie to take, and Finn noted, “We talked about this a lot – that we wanted to hopefully exercise a lot of restraint as we build the movie and allow individuals to obtain really anxious and tense and creeped out by what is going on. But then at a sure point toward the very end, I knew I wanted to explode it into the full blown horror movie that it becomes. I love monsters and I love practical effects. I always knew I wanted to do this thing at the very end, but I wanted individuals to not even be able to believe that this was happening at the end of this movie, just for sort of how wild it gets. I love that sort of hard left that the movie takes.”

Smile is now available for purchase on Digital and can be seen on Paramount+ and will be available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on December 13.


Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.