The 10 Most Terrifying Moments In Smile, Ranked

Warning: The following article contains spoilers for the movie "Smile."

"Smile" confidently takes its place next to the best horror films of 2022, a movie with familiar tropes but executed with masterful direction, incredible performances, and a score that will burrow under your skin. The movie follows Rose (rivetingly portrayed by Sosie Bacon), who witnessed her mom die of an overdose when she was 10 and now works as a doctor in an emergency psych ward. 

After witnessing one of her patients take their own life, she starts seeing people smiling at her along with unexplained visions. Digging deeper into the mystery, Rose uncovers that she is cursed by an evil entity that feeds on trauma to survive. Will Rose figure out how to break the chain or become the latest smiley-faced corpse?

The premise may seem reminiscent of movies like "The Ring" or "It Follows," and there are definite comparisons to be made, but "Smile" successfully stands on its own. The director, Parker Finn, crafts a new urban legend that makes the simple act of smiling terrifying. It also benefits from several stand-out performances, surprising emotional depth, and character development. There are a healthy amount of well-earned jump scares and enough creepy visuals and gore to make more squeamish audience members head for the exit signs. With the start of spooky season upon us, let's carve out and rank the most terrifying moments of "Smile."

Note: This article involves numerous mentions of suicide. If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

10. A looming specter in the shadows

After several terrifying visions and a fight with her fiancé Trevor, Rose is left alone in her bedroom while Trevor sleeps on the couch. She searches for more information about the professor who killed himself brutally in front of Laura (the patient Rose witnessed die). As more facts of this case unfold, so does the tension in the scene. Rose feels like something or someone is watching from her impossibly dark bathroom shadows. Rather than investigate what may be lurking, she turns the lights off and attempts to sleep. As she rolls over, the audience sees a faint silhouette of a woman watching her as Rose shakes and fights back the tears.

This sequence follows after several horrifying visions have already crept into Rose's psyche. Hence, it's natural that the character and the audience search every corner of the frame for something creepy to appear next. Parker Finn subverts expectations and does not have anything jump out. Instead, it's a slow and eery reveal of a figure standing in the very place we all knew they would be. This choice makes the entity coming after Rose feel inescapable, like it's toying with her, relishing her fear, and taking its time.

9. A creepy phone call

Rose arrives home justifiably shaken after witnessing her patient's suicide. She downs a glass of wine, and before she can refill it, the home alarm rings out, making Rose and the audience jump out of their skin. Rose notices her back door is open while the alarm company operator is on the phone. The voice on the other end eerily shifts and asks, "Are you sure you didn't let anyone in?" The phone rings again. Only it's not in Rose's hand. She never actually picked it up, and we realize the smile entity is making her see and hear things that aren't there.

The phone call fake-out is an inspired choice because it sets up early in the film's runtime that we can't trust what Rose is seeing or hearing to be real. This uncertainty makes every scene that follows that much more unnerving. It also plays with the classic home invasion tropes like the ear-piercingly loud home alarm, all the doors and windows locked except one, and the call coming from inside the house. Only this intruder is coming from inside Rose's mind, so she can't simply run out the front door to safety. Scary stuff, indeed.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

8. You're going to die!

In the film's beginning, a patient named Carl repeats to Rose, "Nothing matters, no one matters, we're all dead." He's catatonic, but there's something tragic and vulnerable in his eyes. Later, when Rose passes by his room, he sits with an eerie grin plastered on his face. He then stands and approaches her shouting aggressively, "You're going to die!" Rose calls for help, and the nurses arrive to find Carl sleeping peacefully. None of what she saw actually happened.

This scene is another example where the film tricks Rose and the viewers into thinking something is real, which turns out to be an illusion created by what's haunting her. Carl's initial nihilistic rant seems like a foreshadowing of what is to come, or at least the mindset of this evil spirit. No one matters to it, and anyone who witnesses the smile is cursed to die. Carl's violent shift in demeanor from his first appearance is jarring and induces an immediate sense of unease; yet another way the spirit is toying with Rose. Turning the people she knows against her makes her life a waking nightmare.

7. Rose attacks her patient

Another sequence with Carl makes our list, and it's even creepier than the one above. Rose figures out that the key to breaking the curse is to murder someone in front of a witness. This creature needs someone to witness a traumatic event to attach to its next victim. So, she goes into the hospital with a knife and stabs Carl multiple times in front of Dr. Desai (Kal Penn). Carl's screams morph from agony to glee until Rose turns to the doctor and sees him rip his own face off. She snaps out of this, and we realize it was yet another mental trick played on her — Rose is still in the car outside of the hospital.

This moment starts maddeningly out of character. Rose learns what she has to do to break the curse, but a person who's made it their life's work to help people wouldn't so quickly be able to justify killing someone, even if it was her only way out. The tension builds, and the first few stabs at Carl seem very real, leaving the audience questioning where Rose and the film could possibly go from here. Then, Carl starts screaming and almost laughing, and we're let in on the twist. Parker Finn masterfully directs this sequence, and none of the actors tip their hands too soon. Also, seeing Kal Penn rip his face off to reveal a sinewy skeleton with bulging eyes underneath will be seared in audiences' minds for weeks.

6. Dead cat birthday gift

Rose takes a hiatus from work after her patient's death and attends her nephew Jackson's birthday party. Her relationship with her sister, Holly, is far from perfect as they've both taken drastically different paths after their mother's death. Rose and the audience are begging for a break from this relentless tension, but when it's time to open Auntie Rose's gift, Jackson reaches into the box and pulls out Rose's dead cat, Mustache. Rose tries to explain it wasn't her and ends up falling through a table, getting glass shards in her arms, and screaming bloody murder in front of the shocked party guests.

We've all witnessed a kid fake they like a gift from an out-of-touch relative, but this one takes the proverbial cake. Mustache goes missing earlier in the film, and the script allows enough time to pass, so a dead cat is the last thing we expect in that box. Watching Rose plead that she didn't do it in front of a room full of horrified families is gut-wrenching. How could she possibly make them believe her? 

When Rose crashes through the table, her arms get riddled with shards and ooze blood. It's a grotesque sight to behold. The entity slowly isolates Rose by making others think she's losing her mind, feeding on these moments like appetizers before the main course. After this birthday party, everyone involved will need years of therapy.

5. Rose's therapist makes a house call

After the cat incident, Rose wakes up the following day to find her therapist, Dr. Northcott, at her door. This unexpected house call feels like a moment for Rose to get some relief and hear from a voice of reason. The doctor exhibits genuine empathy, and then the phone rings, and Dr. Northcott encourages Rose to pick it up. When she does, the actual doctor is on the other end, and the one sitting across from her slowly grins. The fake doctor towers over Rose, stomping her way down the stairs and shouting with a demonic timbre, "It's almost time, Rose!" as she opens her mouth, thick drool drips out along with a guttural growl.

This is another example of the director pulling a sneaky trick on the protagonist and the audience we should see this coming, but we don't. Part of the reason this catches us off guard is that the performances and the direction are so convincing that there's no hint anything is wrong. We just witnessed the world's worst birthday party, so we're lulled into thinking this may be a break from the scares, a moment to relax. It's also already been established that her doctor knows where she lives and isn't above house calls, so nothing seems suspicious. We are quickly reminded that Rose and our nerves are never safe until the credits roll. 

4. A perfect jump scare

Rose sits drinking wine and listening to the audio of her patient Laura's final moments on repeat, trying to find evidence of someone else in the room with them. She thinks she hears something and plays back a specific moment in the recording. Rose's face shifts. Did she hear a voice? She turns the volume up again, and just when we think this mystery audio clip will be revealed, a grotesque spirit appears and shouts in her ear, "Rose!" This scream sends Rose tumbling out of her chair and audience members launching their popcorn buckets on the row in front of them. 

Jump scares get a bad rap in horror films because they are often overused or in place of actual scary moments, but in "Smile," they aren't just gimmicks. As Parker Finn discussed with Bloody Disgusting: "I love the big visceral, jumpy moments; I never want to do cheap ones. I always want to do ones that feel well-earned, well set up, and subversive in what they're doing." 

This sequence should be a master class in how to make a jump scare work. Finn distracts the audience by having them focus on what Rose thinks she hears on the tape. With each gradual increase in the audio's volume, the audience may even believe they hear something too ... and then when the visual jump scare appears instead, it's a complete surprise and genuinely frightening.

3. Rose vs. the Smile

Rose realizes if she's alone, there's no way for this curse to transfer to a new victim. She decides to face this demon head-on at her abandoned childhood home. The spirit first appears as her mother, revealing the overdose was partially Rose's fault since she was scared and didn't call for help. When Rose doesn't take the bait, the actual nightmarish shape of the creature is unleashed: stringy black hair, freakishly tall with gangly limbs, and a giant toothy smile. If that wasn't creepy enough, it later rips off its face to reveal a gooey skeletal monster with multiple unhinged jaws. There's an added twist that we dare not spoil, but it's a doozy.

The finale of "Smile" is an emotional rollercoaster and delivers goosebumps galore. Rose returns to her rotting childhood home, a visual metaphor for how Rose's past has also been rotting away at her. Kevin Keppy plays the nightmare creature, and while he's 6' 5" in real life, the camera angles make him look 10 feet tall. 

The choice to make this an actor with practical make-up instead of CGI feels tangible and dangerous. Parker Finn elaborated on this choice to /Film: "Yeah, I grew up on practical effects. It was one of the reasons I wanted to become a filmmaker, because I was so fascinated with them. I just think that when something is real and there, and the actors can interact with it, it just gives it a different kind of gravity." We wholeheartedly agree.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

2. Upside down sister

Rose goes to her sister's house to apologize and show her the evidence she's found on the curse. She pleads with Holly but it falls on deaf ears, and they have another blow-up fight. Her sister slams the door in her face; Rose gets back in her car. In the background, we see Holly walk out of the house and up to the window, assumedly to make amends. When Rose turns to her, there's a brief pause, and then Holly's outstretched neck and smiling face flop down as if unhinged from her body. Rose is left screaming alone in her car as her nephew watches, terrified from the house.

If you've seen the "Smile" trailer, there's a good chance this moment is etched in your nightmares. Even though we know it's coming, the scare is so well executed it's still a shock to witness. The previous times the smile appears are a more slow-burn approach with the tension building with each passing frame. This smile is especially terrifying because it happens out of nowhere and looks so inhuman and unnatural that it's genuinely disturbing. This one moment exemplifies what this movie does excellently: It's an effective jump scare rooted in character emotion, with elements of body horror, and achieved with uncanny practical effects.

1. First smile attack

In the film's opening minutes, Rose meets a new patient, Laura, a young woman who claims that something is following her and wearing people's faces like a mask. She says it takes the shape of strangers and people she knows and that they all smile at her, but not in a friendly way. Before Rose can unpack this, Laura screams that it's in the room and struggles to escape. Rose turns slowly around but sees nothing. Then when she turns back, Laura has an eerie grin plastered on her face. She then picks up a shard of glass and proceeds to cut herself from her cheek to the other side of her neck. Arterial blood gushes as she drops and bleeds out, with the smile still frozen on her face.

The trailers show glimpses of the horror that unfolds in this sequence, but seeing it uncut takes the prize for the most terrifying moment in "Smile." It's one of the most graphically violent deaths in the film, but it's also rooted in emotional depth and pain. Caitlin Stasey's performance as Laura is believable and raw. It also teases the rules of the curse just enough without giving too much away. When Rose turns around and sees Caitlin's dead-eyed smile, what follows next is the most iconic moment in the film. The slow slicing of her face is brutal, and the reveal of her still smiling on the ground, wide-eyed in a pool of her own blood, will instantly ruin smiles for years to come.