Why Smile's Monster Is Obsessed With Smiling

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the film "Smile." 

Parker Finn's new horror film "Smile" is, like many horror films of recent vintage, a tale of trauma. Sosie Bacon plays Dr. Rose Cotter, an overworked psychiatrist in a mental hospital who, during a busy day, must consult a disturbed young patient with a particular affliction. During their meeting, the patient reveals that she had recently witnessed someone take their own lives, leaving her disturbed and traumatized. Additionally, however, she has been seeing hallucinatory visions of people — sometimes random people, sometimes people she knows — smiling at her in a menacing way. Eventually the patient pastes on a rictus of her own and takes her own life in front of Dr. Cotter. The curse of trauma is passed on. It's not long before Rose begins having similar hallucinatory visions. 

For a portion of "Smile," Rose merely has to bear the brunt of her newly acquired curse — a curse that may or may not be all in her head. Rose had already been living through a lifetime of trauma after being raised by a mentally ill mother and witnessing her suicide when she was 10. Witnessing a new death may or may not have been a "breaking point" for her. Rose does discover, however, that there is a pattern at play. Thanks to the investigation of a friend on the police force (Kyle Gallner), Rose finds that not only had her smiling patient witnessed a suicide, but that the man she saw die had also witnessed a suicide. The person he saw die had also witnessed someone take their own lives, and so on for at least 20 different deaths. 

The trauma monster

"Smile" ultimately envisions this pattern of death as being orchestrated by an unnamed supernatural being that feeds on trauma. A ghostly demonic presence takes control of a victim and assures that self-inflicted violence is seen by the next person in the chain. It's unclear just how long this demon has been around. As far as the audience knows, it could be impossibly ancient. 

Rose returns to her childhood home — a tiny remote home far, far outside of town — to assure that she will be alone. Should the entity get the better of her, there will be no witnesses it can pass the curse onto. In the now-dilapidated building, Rose can confront the ghost of her dead mother, and openly explain that pain and anguish are intergenerational. Like a genetic condition, trauma is frequently passed to others. Rose literally faces her inner demon. "Smile," for all its paranormal leanings, is ultimately pretty responsible with its psychological aspects.

But why the smile? 

The demonic grin seen on the face of the trauma monster's ghostly avatars could be seen as a satire of "a brave face." Anyone facing extreme psychological difficulty has likely heard the old and often useless advice of "hoisting yourself up" and "putting on a brave face." Smile and the world smiles with you. Don't worry, be happy. These are meaningless platitudes that do not help someone in need of targeted psychological help. The monster understands that smiling is a mask, a front put up by people wanting to project happiness they do not feel. 

Mocking this phenomenon, the monster turns smiling into part of the trauma. A smile does not make the best umbrella. A smile is a sign of impending death.

To heighten the trauma

Filmmaker Parker Finn confirmed as much in an interview with CinemaBlend, saying: 

"I was really interested in kind of investigating the sort of the stuff that we're all carrying around inside of our heads, whether it's our fears, anxieties, traumas and what we do to try to mask that from the world. And then at the same time, I wanted to explore and really place the audience in the shoes of a character who feels like their mind is turning against them and what that might be like to experience, and sort of present that in a way that audiences may not have thought of before."

Additionally, the smile might be seen as a specific technique that the unnamed monster has perfected in order to enhance a potential victim's trauma experience. It would certainly be horrible to witness the self-harm of another person, especially at random out in public. It would be doubly unsettling if that person were wearing an unflinching face, grinning, and staring right into your eyes at they committed an act of violence. This would leave the monster's victims unbalanced, unsettled, and curious, wondering what could have been going through a dead person's mind. A scream in pain would mark a more normal human response. The smile removes clear explanations and ordinary humanity. 

Also, to put it simply, the smiles are just plain scary.

The monster in "Smile" has perfected a skill. That skill just happens to be terrorizing others. And as it turns out, it's a skill at which Parker Finn himself also appears to be quite adept.