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Film / Smile (2022)

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Smile and the world smiles with you…

"Sometimes it pretends to be someone that I know. Sometimes it's a random stranger, sometimes it looks like my grandfather who died in front of me when I was seven, but it's all the same thing. It's like it wears people's faces like masks. [...] It's smiling at me. But not a friendly smile. It's the worst smile I've ever seen in my life. And whenever I see it, I just get this god-awful feeling like something really terrible is going to happen. I've never felt scared like I do when I see it."
Laura Weaver

Smile is a Psychological Horror film directed by Parker Finn in his feature debut, based on his 2020 short film Laura Hasn't Slept. It stars Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, and Rob Morgan. It premiered on September 30, 2022.

The film follows a psychiatrist named Dr. Rose Cotter (Bacon) who is having quite possibly the worst week of her life, which begins just after a troubling encounter with one of her patients (Stasey), who is on the verge of mental breakdown due to disturbing hallucinations. During the session, the patient suddenly starts smiling and slits her own throat with a glass shard. Rose is understandably disturbed by this course of events and even though every person she knows console her, stating there's nothing she could do to prevent that suicide, it causes Rose's childhood psychological issues to come back to her. She begins having nightmarish visions of people around her smiling madly and proclaiming she is going to die. She keeps reimagining the patient's final words and realizes that the same thing the latter had to deal with is after her too. Discovering that the dead person is just a last link in a chain of smiling suicidals forces her to investigate in hopes of finding the beginning of the suicidal chain and stop whatever caused it. Otherwise, she's going to be next on the list.

Previews: Trailer, Final Trailer

Smile includes examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Rose's mother terrified her for years due to her severe mental illness.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film is an expansion of one of Parker Finn's short films, which is titled Laura Hasn't Slept. Caitlin Stasey played the titular character in that film and more or less reprises the role here.
  • Agent Scully: Nobody believes Rose's explanation about an entity that haunts her, and just assume that she is going crazy thanks to post-traumatic disorder of watching Laura's suicide. Her own fiance and sister further stoke her paranoia by assuming that either she has inherited genetic mental illness from her mother (which is never proven in the film) or never got over her mother's suicide years ago (which is true, but is not relevant to the issue). Even Joel seems to help her out of a misguided attempt to win back her love, rather than genuine belief.
  • Allegorical Character: The Entity certainly checks all of the hallmarks of a monster that embodies a variety of things from post-traumatic stress (which it is confused for), generational trauma, paranoia, repression and mental illness. The Entity torments and gaslights its victim methodically and without mercy, making it look as though its victim is having a psychotic breakdown. While the victim is scrambling to find help or answers to their problem, all it does is convince everyone that the victim is dangerous to themselves and others while making sure that the victim can't trust anyone back, the Entity routinely impersonating others just to mess with them. It all culminating in killing their victim in a manner confused for a suicide, passing itself onto the witness it traumatizes.
  • Arc Symbol: Smiles. Beyond the visions of people with frightening grins, there's bloodstains shaped like smiles, disturbing pictures of smiles… even the Logo Joke in the trailer isn't safe! They also work to tie into the theme of Trauma; a Stepford Smiler best refers to a person suffering issues which they don't give voice to, leading to them suffering in silence. This is exactly the kind of mindset the Entity causes to drive its victims insane and eventually, towards death.
  • Artistic License – Medicine:
    • Rose interviews a clearly psychotic patient alone in a closed room. The latter isn't restrained in any way, there's plenty of potentially dangerous items lying around, and the only way to call for help is a red phone on the wall on the far end of the room. The patient manages to slowly cut her own throat with a piece of a broken vase and security arrives after she had fully bled out. In reality, this would have been seen as negligence, both on the part of the doctor and the hospital.
    • After this traumatic experience, the hospital lets Rose work until she gets a nervous breakdown (or rather a hallucination caused by the Entity), and doesn't provide her with any counseling.
  • Ax-Crazy: The Smile Entity is a sadistic being that enjoys tormenting its victims before possessing them and forcing them to brutally kill themselves in front of others to spread its curse.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: One of the Entity's many villainous acts throughout the film is killing and packaging Rose's cat Mustache.
  • Bedlam House: Played with. The hospital is very clean and welcoming, but the film opens with showing that severely troubled patients are brought into its halls nonetheless, and if they don't have insurance, then the psychological care they can receive may be limited.
  • Big Bad: The Smile Entity starts tormenting Rose after Laura's suicide, and she'll meet the same fate if she can't figure out how to get rid of its curse.
  • Birthday Party Goes Wrong: Rose's nephew's birthday party spirals out of control when he unwraps the corpse of Rose's dead cat, which the Entity killed and packed. Right before Rose mutilates herself after falling through a coffee table, she sees the smiling Entity among the partygoers.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: 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 true form features a sort of layered Cheshire Cat Grin, like a fractal made of toothy mouths.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Rose is a psychologist, and she suffers from severe mental illness stemming from her traumatic childhood. Zigzagged, though, in that something supernatural really is after her. She also does have a therapist that she at least had been seeing for a while, and who attempts to restart their sessions at the onset of her breakdown.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Enforced. The manner in which the Smile Entity's curse spreads is through the trauma experienced by those who witness its victims being Driven to Suicide, and as such the Entity ensures that its victims' deaths are sufficiently horrific enough to traumatize said witnesses. Examples include Laura slashing open her throat, Gabriel Muñoz bludgeoning himself and mangling his jaw in the process, Anna Powell gouging out her eyes, and ultimately, Rose burning herself alive.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Rose seems to get over her trauma over her mother's death, defeat the Smile Entity and reconcile with Joel... only to discover that it was all a hallucination, that she's still inside her old house and that Joel has just arrived, giving the Smile Entity a witness to pass the curse on to, leading to the Downer Ending below.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Rose experienced severe amounts of childhood trauma from her abusive mother. The mother undergoes an overdose as seen during a Flashback, and begs Rose to call for help. The opening scene suggested that it was a suicide, and even Rose's sister has believed that for years afterwards. The Flashback reveals that Rose chose to let her mother die without calling for help. Rose has buried a lot of guilt inside of herself over the years.
  • Death by Cameo: Caitlin Stasey is the first shown victim, and is only in a single scene before her character slits her own throat, though she does appear as the hallucinations which Rose has of the Smile Entity in her form later.
  • Death Is the Only Option: The Entity feeds on trauma and only leaves upon death, typically suicide of those afflicted, and passes its curse onto whoever witnessed it. The only break in the pattern was a prison inmate who murdered a stranger in front of another person, with its curse passing onto the witness. This spares the inmate from the Entity, but he's confined to prison for the rest of his life.
  • Demonic Possession: A tool of the Entity, but not its ultimate objective in and of itself. It wears its victim down emotionally and psychologically over the course of several days. It waits until just the right moment, when the victim was been sufficiently weakened and someone is in proximity to pass the curse onto. It is only then that it takes possession by entering the victim through his or her mouth. But the possession is just long enough to drive the victim to suicide in order to traumatize the next victim and keep the curse going.
  • Downer Ending: The Smile Entity possesses Rose and makes her set herself ablaze with Joel as a witness—meaning that he (and however many other people) will suffer the same fate.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • The entity possesses its victims and forces them to kill themselves while sporting disturbing grins.
    • Zigzagged with Rose’s mother. While it initially seems that she committed suicide by overdosing on pills, the final flashback reveals that she tried to have Rose call for help, implying she had second thoughts about her suicide attempt.
  • Ends with a Smile: In the final scene of the movie, the main character Rose has been possessed by the entity that has been haunting her and after pouring gasoline onto herself subsequently sets herself on fire with her ex-boyfriend Joel watching in horror. Throughout this sequence, Rose has a creepy smile on her face which was also seen on Laura, the young woman who committed suicide under the entity's influence earlier in the movie while she was in Rose's office.
  • Eye Scream: One of the victims of the curse, Anna Powell, gouged her eyes out, and Joel recoils upon seeing the crime scene photos.
  • Facial Horror:
    • Laura's professor, Gabriel Muñoz, bludgeoned himself to death, and a brief glimpse of his corpse shows his horribly mangled jaw.
    • The Smile Entity's true form is a skinless Humanoid Abomination whose noseless face sports beady eyes and an elongated, grinning mouth comprised of five rows of malformed jaws and teeth nested within each other.
  • Fair-Weather Friend: Lampshaded by Rose. Trevor seems to be a sensitive, understanding partner at first. However, as soon as his fiancé's nervous breakdown overwhelms him, he becomes angry and accusative. This is somewhat understandable, however, after she pulls a knife on him and seems to have murdered their cat.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Smile Entity always has its victims hallucinate people as smiling unnaturally, it also tends to chat rather causally when mocking Rose.
  • Floral Theme Naming: Rose and her sister Holly. The college student whom Rose gets the curse from is named Laura, which means "laurel" in Latin.
  • Foreshadowing: In Rose's hallucination of her stabbing Carl, Dr. Desai violently flays his own face as he approaches her. The ending reveals that the Entity transfers itself from person to person by flaying its host and breaking out of their body.
  • Forced to Watch: The Entity forces its victims to commit suicide in front of a witness, maximizing their trauma so that it can pass on.
  • For the Evulz: The Entity needs to traumatize others in order to spread its curse and survive, but it derives pleasure from tormenting them and driving them to suicide, and always does so in ways that will ensure that it will never lack for a next victim. The reason they smile is because that's how much it's enjoying itself.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The scene between Rose and Laura has one. Laura falls backward, and starts screaming in terror. There's a brief moment where her mouth is wide open, and gives a sense that she may be having trouble breathing. Watch the movie to its end the first time, and then rewatch it, and you'll realize it was exactly at that moment when the Smile Entity was entering her through her mouth to possess her and then drive her to suicide. Just like he did to Rose at the climax.
  • Fright Beside Them: Rose hears a knock on her front door. She looks outside and sees Dr. Northcott, who says she is there for a wellness check. The two of them sit and talk for a few minutes before the phone rings. It is Dr. Northcott, calling to see if Rose is all right. Rose turns to look at her guest and realizes she has been casually chatting with the Smile Entity this entire time.
  • Gaslighting: The Entity's M.O. is that it isolates its victims by making them look like they've gone insane to those around them before actually driving them insane with the disturbing things it makes them experience. When Rose first encounters it, it makes her think that one of her patients is getting aggressive (when really he was lying on his bed doing nothing), causing her boss to put her on leave. It then kills her cat and swaps her nephew's birthday present with it, making everyone think that she had killed it while traumatizing the children there.
  • Get Out!: Mrs. Muñoz shouts at Rose to get out of her fucking house after realizing that she is not a journalist.
  • Glasgow Grin: The Entity is defined by its distorted grin, most infamously slicing Laura's face and throat open to give her a gruesome "smile."
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Downplayed. The final tool in the Entity's arsenal is revealing its true form to its victims, that being a lanky, skinless creature with a gaping mouth packed with multiple rows of human-like teeth. Rose is completely broken when she sees it, allowing it to possess her. However, it doesn't do this right off the bat, as it has to break down its victims' willpower first through constant psychological torture so that seeing what it actually looks like will be the last straw.
  • Harmful to Minors:
    • The root of Rose's trauma is having witnessed her mother's suicide as a child. Likewise, she learns that Laura had witnessed her grandfather's death as a child.
    • Rose attends her young nephew's birthday party, even though she's still feeling unnerved by the previous night's events. Then things rapidly go downhill when Rose's present contains her dead cat, sending her into a grief-stricken panic before the Entity attacks her and causes her to fall through a glass table. From his point of view, the little boy is witnessing his aunt go through a violent mental breakdown.
  • Hereditary Suicide: Zigzagged. Rose's mother committed suicide (which Rose witnessed), and this gives Rose even more reason to be terrified when she learns that the Entity will drive her to suicide. Which is exactly what happens, but not before the revelation that Rose's mother did not exactly commit suicide. She attempted suicide, but it's implied to have been a cry for help. Rose's own inaction led to it being fatal.
  • Heroic Suicide: Rose believes that if she kills herself in private, the lack of a witness will make sure the Entity dies with her. The Entity conspires to make sure this doesn't happen.
  • Hope Spot: Rose confronts the Entity head-on, setting it on fire with an oil lamp and leaving it to burn with her childhood home. Exhausted but free from the curse, Rose goes to Joel's apartment and confesses how she realizes that she pushed him away because of her trauma. It seems that they will reconcile, and Rose asks Joel to stay with her until she falls asleep, which he promises... before his voice distorts and Rose realizes she's been imagining the entire thing. She's still inside her childhood home, still cursed, and Joel has arrived in time to provide the Entity with the witness it needs....
  • Humanoid Abomination: What exactly the entity is — angel, demon, ghost, alien — we never find out. "Entity" really is the most fitting name for this thing.
  • Idiot Ball: After the cat's corpse is discovered in her nephew's birthday gift box, she tries explaining to her fiance that she's being haunted by a Humanoid Abomination and is aghast and offended when he doesn't believe her. While she has every right to be emotional after what had happened, it was naive of her to jump to that conclusion, share it and expect him to not think she's going crazy.
  • I Have This Friend: Rose tries to get more from the one person who faced the entity and survived by saying it is happening (as opposed to has happened) to a patient. Although she lets it slip once she discovers the full story and says "I'm not gonna kill anyone!"
  • In the Blood: Rose's mother suffered from a severe, unspecified mental illness that eventually drove her to suicide. As her behavior becomes more erratic, several people suggest that Rose has inherited her mother's condition and is experiencing a similar breakdown.
  • It Can Think: The Smile Entity isn’t some mindless being seeking to continue its existence. It is perfectly capable of learning from its mistakes and delaying its victims. For example, someone managed to survive its curse by brutally killing someone in front of another, it makes Rose hallucinate to keep her from escaping this way. When Rose goes to her childhood home to commit suicide without a witness, it stalls her long enough for Joel to arrive and witness her setting herself aflame.
  • Jerkass: Despite its alien appearance, The Smile Entity is ultimately a sadistic bully that torments its victims for its own amusement.
  • Jump Scare: The entity makes whoever is possessed to have sudden hallucinations that serve as this to the audience.
  • Kill It with Fire: Rose tries that to exorcise the Smile Entity and then on herself to pass the curse on.
  • Logo Joke: When the Paramount logo is shown in the trailer, it is immediately flipped upside down so that the arch of stars resembles a smile.
  • Mistaken for Insane: All victims of the Entity seem to reach this point. Between the horrifying visions, lack of sleep, and erratic behavior, you can hardly blame people.
  • Mood Whiplash: The Downer Ending is followed by credits scored by The Chordettes's "Lollipop," of all songs.
    • Laura's scene has a very effective one: her frantic, desperate plea for help is followed by an eerie and almost unnatural calm as she commits suicide (smiling) in front of Rose. The change in tone makes the scene all the more chilling for it, and actually gives Rose a first hint that the victims aren't committing suicide willingly.
  • Morton's Fork: You can survive if you kill someone else. However, due to the need for a witness, the likelihood of getting away with it is very small — and the only person we see who's done it this way is in prison without a defence. Barring the moral line that has to be crossed to commit murder, this still isn't as simple as it sounds. Rose does attempt to murder one of her former patients, but the Entity's ability to alter her perception makes it so that she can never truly follow through with it in real life.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Rose has carried guilt for years over leaving her mother to die of an overdose, and choosing not to call for help.
  • Never Trust a Trailer:
    • The trailers make the film seem like it will be nothing but a mindless, cheesy, made-for-teen, gimmick movie like Wish Upon, Countdown or Truth or Dare (2012) that won't take itself even remotely seriously. By contrast, the actual film takes itself very seriously, exploring the struggles of mental illness, generational trauma, and despair, and how society often pushes away those who have it them.
    • It also makes you think it will consist of nothing but constant jumpscares and entirely cheap scares with little to no buildup or atmosphere. While the film itself has plenty of jump scares, they're actually quite spaced out and each one is built up to effectively. Much of the movie's horror actually comes from the incredibly bleak and dreadful atmosphere present throughout.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Besides maybe its motive, the film explains next to nothing about what the Smile Entity really is. We don't know how it came into existance or any explanation of its past.
  • Police Are Useless: The police here somehow fail to notice a chain of witnesses to a suicide going insane and committing suicide themselves in front of a witness, each no more than a week apart at most. Even when Joel does notice the pattern, he doesn't bring it to the attention of any other officers — supernatural or not, it is a pattern of death that warrants investigation at the very least. It took a traumatized haunted doctor to make the connection.
  • Pushed at the Monster: Essentially, this is what Rose figures out as an option to survive. You can avoid suicide if you murder someone else instead, so long as there's a witness for the curse to pass onto. She hallucinates trying this but quickly decides afterward she can't follow through in real life.
  • Race Against the Clock: "Almost time, Rose". Rose only has a few days to break the curse before the Entity takes possession of her and forces her to kill herself in front of others to spread the curse.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Dr. Desai. He shows sincere concern for Rose's well-being when he realizes she's overworking herself, and that's even before the plot kicks off in earnest. Even when he was within his rights to discipline her when she (being misled by the Smile Entity) applied more force than was necessary with a docile patient, he instead gives her a week of paid leave with the hope that she can get herself sorted out and rested. He really has no choice but to call the cops on her near the end when he notices a knife in her car seat.
  • Reflective Eyes: The final scene is a close-up of Joel's eye as he sees Rose burning herself.
  • Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: Joel and Rose split up due to Rose's fear of being her true self around him. Their journey into the mystery of the Entity ultimately leads Rose to accept that she still loves Joel. Then subverted. Just as they seem about to get back together, Rose realizes that the Entity is actually tricking her. Though it's implied Joel does have real feelings for her, she never confessed her love for him and in fact, burns herself alive in front of him, passing on the curse.
  • Rule of Scary: A lot of the behavior of the Entity doesn't have an explicit explanation, leaving some of its elaborate tricks a little confusing. For example, if Rose can still pass on the curse, why would it not only stop her from killing someone else and passing it along? More to the point, why would it go to the extreme levels of causing Rose to hallucinate to think that she was about to commit the murder? The only real possible explanation is that the Entity wanted her to be as terrified as possible, hence the rule.
  • Rule of Symbolism: 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.
  • Sadistic Choice: Rose figures out that you can survive if you kill someone else in front of a witness, which will stop you from committing suicide. It's ultimately subverted, however, as the Entity makes sure she can't kill another person, suggesting that the previous survivor just got lucky when he did it and that even the Entity itself didn't know this was possible until it happened; it ensures Rose doesn't take the same way out.
  • Slashed Throat: Laura, the distraught patient brought to see Rose at the start of the film, slashes her throat open with a piece of a broken vase.
  • Slasher Smile:
    • As to be expected given the title, the Entity causes those possessed by it to see others as sporting evil grins and Kubrick Stares.
    • The Entity's true form has an enormous rictus that perpetually hangs agape, with several sets of teeth and gums nested within.
  • Sole Survivor: Robert Talley was haunted by the Entity but managed to prevent himself from succumbing to suicide by killing a person while being witnessed by another, which caused the Entity to jump to the witness instead. As of the end of the film, he remains the only person who is able to break out of the curse alive.
  • Stealth Sequel: To Parker Finn's 2020 short film Laura Hasn't Slept.
  • Tagline: "Once you see it, it's too late."
  • Taking You with Me: In the third act, Rose attempts to commit suicide in her empty childhood home, so the Entity will not be able to jump into another person. However, the Entity ensures that she will delay the procedure until Joel arrives in time to witness her suicide.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The Entity causes its victims to suffer vivid hallucinations that seem perfectly real right up until they're obviously not, wrapping them up in elaborate scenarios that make it difficult to tell reality from fantasy. Rose imagines several events over the course of the film, including attacking a patient and defeating the Entity and reconciling with Joel.
  • The Un-Reveal: We never know the origin behind the Smile Entity, where it came from, or how long it's been around prior to the events of the film. The only survivor of the event, who managed to escape the Entity by killing a person, talked about similar events occurring in Brazil a few years back.
  • The Un-Smile: The title refers to the Smile Entity's grinning rictus—which looks less like a genuine smile and more like it's showing you how many teeth it has with which to eat you.
  • Wham Line: "I will stay with you forever." Said by the Entity to Rose at the end when she and the audience alike think that she has been freed from the curse.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Joel's apartment suddenly goes dark after he and Rose appear to have their Maybe Ever After, and the eerie smile slips across his face, proving that Rose is not free from the Entity.
    • The final shot of the movie, as Rose turns around and burns herself alive in front of Joel, with the sight reflected in his eyes.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The ultimate fate of Rose's fiancé is unknown.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To It Follows. Both are about young women who have a mysterious encounter with an evil supernatural entity that only they can see and which then pursues them as they team up with friends and try to figure out how to get away from it. It also directly copies a scare where a huge scary guy appears directly in front of the female protagonist in a darkened hallway, and her determination to use herself as bait to draw it out.
  • Working with the Ex: Rose teams up with her police officer ex, Joel, to uncover the truth about what happened to her.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: The Smile Entity manifests itself to its victims as many different people, some of them strangers, some of them relatives, some of them long dead, but always with a malevolent rictus on its face. It only reveals its true, ghastly form to Rose at the end of the film and, when it does, her mind shuts down completely, allowing it to possess her.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: You'd THINK as an experienced emergency psychiatrist Rose would know how unconvincing this is. She even has a patient say the same thing to her early in the movie, and she puts him on a psychiatric hold. Nonetheless she expects most people to believe, based solely on her sincerity, that the thing only she can see is real.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The Entity claims this when Rose insists what she's seeing isn't real, as Rose can't escape her own mind. While the trope isn't true in the literal sense, it is still right, as Rose can't will herself out of the hallucinations it imparts upon her. Also that the director said in an interview that it is open for interpretation if the Smile Entity is really real or just an imagination of Rose's psyche.
  • Zipping Up The Body Bag: One of the theatrical posters shows Laura's disturbing smile peeking out through the bag's open zipper.