Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Smile.The Smile ending concludes a fascinating exploration of trauma through a horror lens, featuring intricate and tragic themes that add real layers to the meaning of the movie. Written and directed by Parker Finn and based on his short film Laura Hasn't Slept, Smile centers on Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), a therapist who begins experiencing hallucinations after witnessing a patient take her own life. Said patient, Laura (Caitlin Stacey), saw her professor die by suicide, after which she became the target of a presence with a sinister smile. Following Laura's death, Rose starts experiencing visions of her own and begins seeing the smile-themed creature. This strains her relationships with her sister and her fiancé, Trevor (The Boys' Jessie T. Usher), upending her life and giving her a countdown to her seemingly inevitable demise.
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Looking for answers, the 2022 horror movie plot sees Rose seek the help of her police-officer ex, Joel (Kyle Gallner). Together, they discover that Smile-related cases can be traced back to multiple people, none of whom lived more than a week after watching another person die by suicide. Rose realizes the deaths are actually part of a curse, with each person dying in front of a witness and passing the affliction to them. Joel and Rose eventually come across a prisoner named Robert Talley (Rob Morgan), who reveals that the entity pursuing Rose feeds on trauma. Her situation continues to worsen after that until she is forced to confront the creature on her own.
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The Smile movie has been likened to The Ring, and while there are similarities between them, the former offers a different perspective on horror. The film puts an equal amount of focus on its scares as it does on its psychological twists. Smile puts Rose's terrifying experiences into question multiple times as her life falls apart. Such structure allows the movie to deliver consistent misdirections and unpredictable plot developments, which aid in constructing its unnerving mythology and mystery-filled narrative. Another interesting aspect of Smile is the fact that its central creature isn't only meant to frighten. The entity is a metaphor for emotional pain, delivering poignant messages about the often-inescapable nature of trauma, further exemplified by the fate of Sosie Bacon's Rose in the Smile ending. All of this makes the movie a complicated story to unpack, both due to its mental-health subtexts and unexpected closing scenes.
What Happens In The Smile Ending?
Given that the entity in the 2022 horror movie needs another person to witness her death to carry on its curse, Rose secludes herself in her childhood home. There, the entity takes the form of her mother, revealing that, after overdosing, she asked a then 10-year-old Rose to call for help. Rose declined, leading to her mother's death. Rose forgives herself at that moment, but that doesn't deter the creature, which transforms into a monstrous version of Rose's mother. She responds by setting the creature on fire and running out of the house. With the curse seemingly over, she visits Joel in the Smile ending to apologize for pushing him out of her life.
In what could be considered one of Smile's best reveals, however, Joel turns out to be the creature in disguise, revealing that Rose never actually left the house and is instead trapped in her own mind. In the real world, Joel arrives at Rose's childhood home, and when he enters, she turns around with an evil grin on her face. She then takes her own life in front of Joel, effectively passing the curse on to him. The Smile ending closes as the camera focuses on Rose's death being reflected in Joel's terrified eye, showing that her fate will continue to happen to other people.
Why Was The Entity Represented By A Smile?
The connective thread between all the victims in Smile is the sinister grin they exhibit before their deaths. This is tied to the entity feeding on trauma. As explained by another one of the Smile movie's main characters, Rose's therapist, Dr. Madeline Northcott (Robin Weigert), trauma is manageable, but doesn't necessarily fully go away. Taking that into consideration, Smile serves as an allegory of emotional suffering being masked by fabricated displays of happiness and optimism. The victims are made to commit horrific acts with forced smiles on their faces. Thus, their unnerving expression is the entity's twisted way of mocking human response to psychological suffering, and possibly done to further traumatize its victims.
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Smile Is An Allegory Of Trauma And Mental Health
Smile serves as a metaphor for a person's control over their mind in response to trauma, and for the pressure people can feel to cover up their struggles with fake happiness. As the creature makes it clear to Rose during the Smile ending, she is a prisoner of her own mind. That's shown throughout the film as she gradually loses her grip on reality, and those close to her attempt to distance themselves from her. It's further evidenced by the fact that, over the course of Smile's story, the entity seemingly never physically attacks Rose. Instead, it's the various visions it gives her that lead her to hurt herself. Even in a scene in which the creature takes the form of Rose's therapist and attacks her, it's left ambiguous whether it actually happened, or if she hallucinated it. The film heavily hints at Rose's predicaments occurring only as a result of something she herself did (due to the entity's hold over her), shown by her experiencing horrific visions in one place and coming to seemingly hours later in another.
Much like all the other Smile movie victims, Rose slowly lost authority over her mind and body, becoming increasingly dangerous to both herself and those around her until the moment of her death. The victims of the Smile creature lacking complete control over themselves may also explain why they died in no less than a week after being cursed. Though the semi-specific time frame isn't truly explained, it may be connected to the film's emphasis on the importance of mental health, as the victims losing their psychological stability quickly deteriorated their overall well-being, ultimately leading to their deaths. In this, the movie can be seen to reflect how mental health issues are often disregarded as less severe than physical health issues, and can sometimes be unfairly treated as a result.
This ties into the way the Smile movie explores psychological trauma. Smile's central creature is powered by it, and its curse's method of transmission hides a poignant message about the effects of emotional suffering. The horror movie curse is quite literally trauma being passed on from one emotionally hurt person to another, as something many victims have in common is them witnessing a loved one die. The Smile film depicts emotional distress as a lethal virus, similar in nature to the entity in 2015's It Follows, with individuals transmitting it in one of two ways. On one hand, there are those that pass it on without realizing it - those who are completely possessed by the entity and are forced to take their own lives in front of a prospective carrier. Then, there are those who knowingly inflict their pain on to others in a fruitless effort to rid themselves of their predicament, such as Robert Talley, who murdered someone else in order to free himself from the curse. As such, Smile's horror movie monster entity could be interpreted as the pain and sorrow brought on by handling trauma in unhealthy ways - with the smile itself then being an emblem of this.
Can There Be A Smile Sequel?
It's customary for profitable horror films to get sequels, and that is now a likely prospect for Smile due to the movie's box office success. The Smile ending establishes that the entity continues its insidious crusade, specifically through Joel. Thus, the movie's mythology is well-suited for a continuation. No official sequel plans have been announced, but if Smile 2 does happen, it may not necessarily directly follow the ending of the original. As writer-director Parker Finn explained to Polygon:
"I wanted the movie to really exist for its own sake. I wanted to tell this character's story. That was what was really important to me. I think there's a lot of fun to be had in the world of Smile. But certainly, as a filmmaker, I never want to retread anything I've already done. So, if there was ever to be more of Smile, I'd want to make sure it was something unexpected, and different than what Smile is."
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Even if a sequel doesn't take the follow-up approach by continuing from the Smile ending with Joel, there's still potential for a unique horror movie franchise. The curse is an ever-present issue that could be found anywhere at any point in time, which perfectly positions this world for future chapters. Smile presents a fascinating and terrifying concept, and continuing its mythology could allow the property to become a unique horror franchise.
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