Why Smile Star Kyle Gallner Thinks The Movie Was A Huge Hit [Exclusive]

Every year has its share of horror hits, but it's safe to say that 2022 has been extraordinarily kind to the genre, especially this fall. Seeing the likes of "Barbarian," "Halloween Ends, "Terrifier 2," and "Pearl" thrive at the box office within a two-month span is the kind of streak you always dream about but rarely see come to fruition. It sent a widespread message across the industry that horror, whether it comes from a major studio or an independent production, is one of the major factors keeping movie theaters alive. To further drive the point home, "Smile" pulled a real sneak attack this past month.

Based on director Parker Finn's 2020 short film "Laura Hasn't Slept," the screen adaptation follows a psychiatrist (Sosie Bacon) who investigates a string of mysterious deaths after she falls under an apparent curse that manifests itself through a series of unnerving smiles. Even if you take out its significant monetary value to the genre, you would still be left with a really eerie horror movie that gets under your skin. The DNA of "Smile" may borrow aspects from "It Follows" and Gore Verbinski's "The Ring," yet it still retains this persistent sense of dread as the central mystery unfolds.

There are a number of different reasons as to how Finn's chiller grew into one of 2022's greatest success stories, and "Smile" star Kyle Gallner seems to know exactly why.

A win for theatrical exhibition

As of this moment, "Smile" has raked in over $210 million on a $17 million budget, which makes it the most successful horror film of the year. You'd think that was exactly what Paramount was expecting, but in a surprising turn of events, they really didn't account for what they had lying in their back pocket. During an exclusive interview with /Film's Jacob Hall, Gallner talked about how "Smile" was initially supposed to be a Paramount+ exclusive:

"We made this thing for Paramount+ just to be on TV. So when they told us it was going to theaters, that was a surprise. And then when it did as well as it did, I think we were all pretty ... you don't want to say shocked, because of course you want your movie to do well, you believe in your film. But nowadays, the way films are ... you never know what's going to take off."

I'm actually kind of shocked they still haven't announced a sequel yet. It's only a matter of time. Paramount foolishly almost buried one of the year's biggest hits on a streaming service that's still finding its legs. "Smile" is just further proof that you should never discount horror, especially when its premise is practically bred for a terrifying collective experience to get the word out there.

'It's fun to be scared'

I got to see "Smile" at an early screening, where the crowd was collectively anxious after its shocking opening. Once Caitlin Statsey unleashed that haunting grin, I could feel them squirming in their seats. There's room for a diverse slate of horror, and sometimes a movie that just has fun toying with the audience can be all it takes to make a crowd pleaser. "It's fun to be scared, and jump at the same time, and really just feel the energy of being in the theater," says Gallner.

Although the film's success surprised Gallner, he knew that both the horror nerds and the general audience would have a great time. Gallner told us:

"It's definitely on the darker side that I think a more casual viewer, I didn't think, would be super into it. But it seems to really be hitting all the right notes for everybody. For more hardcore horror fans and then people who may not be so into the genre, they've just all shown up and for whatever reason, [and] they're really digging it. Not whatever reason. I think it's a good movie. I think it's fun. I think it's well shot. I think it's well-acted."

Even in its familiarity, "Smile" is still dabbling in some really dark stuff in terms of the long-standing effects of trauma and mental illness. The smiles latch onto you like a parasite no matter where you go, which makes for a resonant slice of horror, especially as it distorts the world around you. We associate smiles with happiness, but Finn's film attaches a more sinister meaning to them.

Smile had an incredible marketing campaign

Above all else, Gallner attributes a large part of the film's traction to its genius marketing campaign. Gallner went on:

"I have to say, I do think the marketing campaign really helped with that. I think that brought people in and then good word of mouth kept people coming. And I also think it just reminded people of why they like to go to the movies."

"Smile" joins the ranks as one of the best with their gimmick, as this team did excellent work with that theater exclusive teaser before "Top Gun: Maverick." The cherry on top, however, was sending actors to baseball games in a "Smile" T-shirt, where they sat and smiled directly at the camera. They were popping up all over the country, which rightfully freaked people out.

Just look at the ways in which horror has unleashed some really creative marketing over the years. "The Blair Witch Project" constructed an entire faux investigation to make people think it was real. When Kimberly Peirce's "Carrie" remake came out, I remember people sharing the hell out of that clip where they pranked a bunch of coffee shop customers to believe they were in the presence of a telekinetic girl. Sometimes a simple and effective scare out in the wild is all you need to create buzz.

"Smile" is available to buy on Digital HD and stream on Paramount+.