Smile's ending, explained: "The movie teaches you how to watch it"

Smile’s ending, explained: “The movie teaches you how to watch it”

In some ways, Parker Finn’s feature debut Smile is a standard horror movie, where a central character (hospital therapist Rose, played by Sosie Bacon) falls prey to a supernatural phenomenon and spends most of the film coping with the increasingly terrifying battle for understand, resist and survive what happens to him.

But Smile takes an unusual approach at the end, with Finn’s script going in directions designed to rattle horror fans who think they can see the twists coming. After the film’s world premiere at Austin’s Fantastic Fest, Polygon sat down with Finn and asked him to run through the film’s ending: what happened there on a practical level, how to interpret what what we see on the screen and why he omitted a detail. this seems particularly significant.

[Ed. note: Ending spoilers ahead for Smile.]

How does the movie Smile end?

Rose first learns about the smiling monster taking over her life when a distraught young woman named Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey) is brought to Rose’s hospital in a near-hysterical state. Laura explains that she saw an “entity” that no one else can see, a creature with a horrifying smile that sometimes appears to her in the guise of other people she knows, living or dead. Then Laura breaks down screaming, clearly something over her shoulder that Rose can’t see. As Rose calls for help, Laura calmly stands up smiling and slits her throat.

From then on, Rose continues to see Laura, in public and in private, smiling at her. She has visions and nightmares that feature other people she knows smiling at her and shouting at her. Rose tells other people about the entity, including her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher) and her sister Holly (Gillian Zinser), but they believe she has delusions brought on by the stress and trauma of the Laura’s death. Eventually, Rose and her ex, a cop named Joel (Kyle Gallner), uncover a chain of equally grotesque suicides stretching back into the past. The diagram suggests that the entity haunts someone until they are deeply traumatized, then compels them to commit suicide in front of a witness, who is traumatized by death. Then the entity starts again with its new victim.

Image: Primordial Images

Rose and Joel find a person who broke the chain and survived, grotesquely murdering someone else in front of a witness and passing the entity to that witness. This creates a few likely possibilities for the ending: Rose can either sacrifice someone else to survive, as Naomi Watts’ character Rachel does with a similar passed down curse in the ring; she may fail to break the curse and the entity may win, meaning Rose dies in front of someone else who experiences the trauma; or she can find another way to confront and fight the creature.

At the end, Smile has these three endings. Rose brutally stabs a terrified patient to death at her hospital in front of her screaming boss, Morgan (Kal Penn). But it turns out to be a dream she has as she passes out in her car outside the hospital, and she flees the hospital and Morgan in horror.

Then she drives to her abandoned and disintegrated childhood home, where her drug-addicted mother died of an overdose – something Rose potentially could have prevented if she had called an ambulance like her mother had begged her to. , instead of running away in fear. The original repressed trauma and guilt over her mother’s death is what drew the smiling entity to her in the first place. Rose faces the creature first in the form of her mother, then as a giant, spindly creature. But she forgives herself for not having helped her mother when she was 10, and sets fire to the creature and the house, symbolizing her desire to finally let go of the past.

But when she returns to Joel to apologize for pushing him away when they were dating and admitting that he scared her because he crossed her psychological barriers, he reveals himself as the entity again. Rose realizes that she is still in her childhood home and never actually fought the entity or left – the whole confrontation she experienced was another of the hallucinations of the creature. Joel arrives and Rose flees from him, acknowledging that the creature means for him to witness her forced suicide and become its next victim.

Inside the house, the tall spindly creature rips its face open, revealing something raw and gleaming in a series of toothy smiles all over its face. Then he forces Rose’s mouth open and crawls inside her. When Joel bursts into the house, he just sees Rose, pouring jet fuel on herself and turning to smile at her. It bursts into flames and dies, completing the chain and making Joel the creature’s next prey.

What does the end of Smile mean?

Smile suggests that there are many ways to deal with trauma, passing it on (as abuse victims often do by abusing others), accepting it, or collapsing under its weight. But Finn says the intent with the interwoven series of false endings was to get ahead of an audience that might have tried to get ahead of the film.

“Horror audiences have become so savvy, so I tried to put myself in their shoes,” he says. “What would I expect? What would I have planned? And I tried to subvert that and do something that might catch them off guard, and kind of flip them on their head.

Sosie Bacon as Rose fleeing a burning building at night in Smile

Image: Primordial Images

At the same time, the “It was all just a dream” ending is a notorious fake in the movies, so Finn had to make sure he justified that route from the start, making it clear that the creature could cause hallucinations. developed in its victims. – and that he specifically used these visions to manipulate their behavior and increase their fear.

“The movie teaches you all along how to watch it and teaches you that you can’t trust Rose’s perception,” says Finn. “It’s in the film’s DNA to disturb the viewer a bit. So I really wanted to pay for that with how the film ends, how what might look like an ending might not be an ending. I thought leaned into it. From the start, I knew I was still interested in following the story to its worst logical conclusion. But I also wanted to have emotional catharsis. So I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. Hopefully [the ending] book on it.

Finn says he’s looking forward to viewers picking up the movie, asking questions about what’s real and what’s not. “But I also really like the idea that if something is going through your mind, it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not,” he says. “For this person, the experience is real.”

What happened to Rose’s father?

The film’s opening sequence unfolds over a series of portraits of Rose’s family, with her mother, father, and sister Holly all happily together. Then Rose’s father disappears from the footage. It is not known whether he died or abandoned the family. Viewers could theorize that whatever happened to him triggered Rose’s mother’s decadence and led her to descend into depression and addiction – but it could just as well be possible that he ran away because he couldn’t handle what was happening to him and how his mental health was deteriorating. Finn says it was important for him to leave the question open.

“I wanted Smile to be pretty much a mother-daughter story. There’s so much in the idea of [Rose’s] isolation, that there was only her and her mother, alone. I like that there is any hint that there was a father, clearly, at some point, but it’s deliberately ambiguous.

Finn says that too much detail about what happened to Rose’s father could have shaped viewers’ expectations or responses in ways he didn’t want to fit into the story. “I didn’t want it to have an undue influence,” he says. “Just the absence, that was the important thing for me – that the absence speaks volumes and really amplifies the mother-daughter relationship.”

Links between Smile and a short film that inspired it

Finn has already made a short film set in the same world, Laura has not sleptwhich was set to debut at SXSW in 2020. The festival that year was one of the first events to be closed due to the spread of COVID-19, but Finn was still able to strike a deal with Paramount to do Smile based on the strength of this short film.

Unlike some short films that evolve into feature films, Laura has not slept does not tell the same story Smile. “I like to think of them as spiritual brothers and sisters,” says Finn. “Pieces of DNA from the short are threaded into the feature, and little Easter eggs here and there. And then Caitlin Stasey, who plays Laura Weaver in Smileis the titular Laura in Laura has not slept as well.

A woman smiles with devilish glee in Smile

Image: Primordial Images

“While both roles, there is a parallel running through them, they go in quite different directions. So I think it’s a lot of fun. I’d be curious if people who saw the feature first come back and watch the short. They could see how the feature could almost be a sequel to the short.

The public cannot currently see Laura has not slept — it’s not available to stream or purchase at all — but Finn expects that to change soon.

“Paramount has it,” he says. “He will soon return to the world. I think they’ll try to make sure it’s available and accessible in different ways.

Will there be a Smile 2?

Finn doesn’t immediately have an idea for a sequel, at least not one he wants to admit. “I wanted the film to really exist for itself,” he says. “I wanted to tell the story of this character. That was what was really important to me. I think there’s a lot of fun to be had in the world of Smile. But certainly as a filmmaker, I never want to retread something I’ve already done. So if there were to be more SmileI would like to make sure that it is something unexpected and different from what Smile is.”

Instead, he is currently developing other horror projects. “I’m working on a few different things, but I’m not talking about anything yet,” he says. “But genre and horror are still my first love. And I want to do character-driven genre movies that kind of explore the human condition and the scary things about being a human being. That’s what which I really love. And if I can take that and twist it with some kind of extraordinary genre element, that’s the way I want to live.