An Ode To The Monster In Smile, One Of The Coolest Creature Designs Of The Year

Warning: Spoilers for "Smile" ahead.

Despite its overarching amount of positive reviews from critics, there's no doubt that audiences will have mixed opinions on "Smile." Among a lot of great things about the film lies a slightly irresponsible and wholly incomplete look at mental illness and the way trauma is both coped with and passed between people, namely leaving out how it manifests on its own without prompting, for starters.

That being said, there's also no doubt that the film is exciting and deeply engrossing, with remnants of Gore Verbinski's 2001 remake of "The Ring" bleeding through both its story and its core performance from lead actress Sosie Bacon. However, I'd argue that the film's best element by far is its monster — and to be fair, the satisfaction of finally seeing what has been chasing our lead down the whole time tends to take the cake in a horror movie. "Smile" and its big bad are no exception.

Meeting the Smile monster

Though showing him (them?) to you would be a massive spoiler, let's talk about how we finally meet the "Smile" monster at the end of the film. In short, the movie follows Bacon's Rose, a psychiatrist at an emergency psychiatric hospital. She meets a woman there who explains that she has been seeing an entity that only she can see, one that takes the form of people smiling in a creepy and unsettling way, and that she feels her life will be in danger the next time she sees said entity. Of course, the woman sees it during her ten minute session with Rose, who watches the patient die at her own hand with a smile on her face that is, in a few words, completely wrong.

The events of the film — and the rapid decaying of Rose's life throughout her search for answers on what plagued her patient and, following that patient's death, what is now chasing her, too — lead the psychiatrist to her childhood home. This is the place where her mother took her own life, and it holds a lot of unfinished emotional business for Rose. It triggers a cathartic moment with her mother in her head, during which they have a dialogue about what happened the night she died, when Rose was only a child — and that gives the psychiatrist the strength to go along with her plan to burn down her former home with the demon, who at this point has taken on a hauntingly tall physical form, inside.

That seems to work like gangbusters. She leaves and reunites with Kyle Gallner's Joel, a cop and ex-boyfriend of Rose's who has been helping her decipher this mystery. She opens up to him and allows herself to be more vulnerable than we've ever seen her. Things seem to be returning to normal ... until Joel starts sporting that grin we all know and hate.

Creature design for the ages

This opens the door for something that a version of the monster — one that took the shape of Rose's mother — said in the house before she set it aflame: No, none of this is real, but your mind makes it so. And thus, nothing could be more true to the person experiencing it. Everything melts away from Joel's apartment, bringing us back to Rose's childhood home, and face to face with the demon once more. This is where the creature design — which was executed with impeccable practical effects — really knocked it out of the park. 

The terrifying entity, which at this point has an iron-clad grip on Rose, rips its own face off and reveals a bloody, fleshy mess of beady eyes and an almost Russian doll-like set of smiling mouths that span a large portion of its body. When I say this reveal completely changed how I was feeling about "Smile" — satisfied but a bit indifferent since its so reminiscent of "The Ring" on first watch — I mean it completely shifted the film in my eyes. Creature design is not only hard to get right, but it's also quite difficult to invent something we haven't seen yet. After all, the human brain can only comprehend what it can comprehend and nothing more (Lovecraft and Eldritch horror for the win). But the "Smile" monster is unique, and it's unsettling because we haven't ever seen anything truly like it in the genre.

A multifaceted monster

But it doesn't stop there. The "Smile" monster also has the ability to unhinge its disgustingly happy and viciously raw jaw to devour its victims whole, which we finally see for the first time after it reveals itself to Rose. Presumably, this is what the monster did to Rose's patient in the hospital even though we couldn't see it happening. The monster seemingly eats its victims — theoretically in their mind, as it reminds Rose that her mind is what makes this all real — and in doing so, invades their bodies and minds, possessing them to die by suicide. The way this thing unhinges its jaw and starts to swallow Rose whole is utterly magical, but in the way that makes you shudder, not in a way that makes you smile. In fact, nothing about the "Smile" monster will actually make you smile, because its surreal, almost unfathomable design was clearly crafted to put viewers off of smiling for, well, ever.

A major part of what makes this creature so off-putting is its closeness to our own physicality. It embodies the same type of frame as a human, with hands and feet and a head with all the necessaries attached to it. But of course, it's nothing like us, and that alone is scary, but to pair it with a physical form we know well — and even to go a step further and turn that on its head — is really off-putting. It wouldn't be the first time human elements have been incorporated into the main monster of a horror film with unsettling results, but "Smile" certainly managed to do it in a way that feels fresh. You won't look at eyes, teeth, or mouths the same way ever again — and for a horror movie, that's saying something.

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)​.