SMILE Director Discusses The Film’s Terrifying Monster, The Mystery Behind The Cat's Death And More

In honor of Smile’s release on Paramount+ and Digital, director Parker Finn offers interesting insight into the film, including the death of Rose's cat, and the meaning behind the demon’s appearance.

Interviews Opinion

Smile took the world by surprise. Directed by Parker Finn, the movie tells the story of Doctor Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), who, after witnessing the death of a patient stalked by a grinning creature, becomes the new bearer of the curse. Now stalked by that same entity, Rose attempts to get rid of the curse as she gradually loses her grip on reality.

Smile was one of 2022's biggest successes, earning over $200 million worldwide against a reported $17 million budget. The movie is now available to purchase on Digital and to stream on Paramount+, and to mark the occasion, we talked with director Parker Finn about the horror film, including the meaning behind the movie's central creature and the connections between the project and the short film that preceded it.

Did Rose Kill Her Cat?

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One of the biggest mysteries in the film is the death of Rose's cat, Mustache. Following the cat's disappearance, during her nephew's birthday party, Rose gives the child a present that, in a shocking twist, turns out to be Mustache's dead body. She states it wasn't her who killed the cat, and the killer is never revealed.

It's an enticing mystery that adds to the movie's depth. Though Finn has an idea of who Mustache's killer is, he prefers not to reveal his take in order to allow audiences to form their own opinion on the matter:

"There are certainly different things in the film that I purposefully don't answer in a clear way, because I love to give the film to the audience and allow them to draw some of their own conclusions, and maybe debate certain things or start a conversation, and I would never want to put my thumb on the scale. I mean, I have opinions about it; I'm sure [Sosie Bacon] has opinions about it, but I like that audiences are left to draw their own conclusions."

As Finn mentioned, Smile star Sosie Bacon does have an opinion on the subject. In an interview with Variety, the actress stated that she spent so much time inside Rose's head that she has a hard time believing she would have murdered Mustache.

Is Smile A Prequel To Laura Hasn't Slept?

Smile is based on Laura Hasn't Slept. The 2020 short film—also directed by Parker Finn—is about a woman named Laura (Caitlin Stasey) talking to her therapist (Lew Temple) about a recurring nightmare, in which she sees a man with a sinister smile intent on showing her his true face. Stasey's Laura also appears in Smile as the patient who unwillingly curses Rose.

Despite the shared character and the fact that Smile is based on the short film, the two aren't necessarily canon to each other. Per Finn, though both projects share some elements with each other, they tell different stories:  

"I look at Laura Hasn't Slept and Smile as being more spiritual siblings. I've heard some people who have seen both feel that Laura Hasn't Slept is almost the prequel to Smile. But, yeah, they share a lot of DNA; they come from the same genetics, but what they're setting out to do is slightly different."

Laura Hasn't Slept was released on Paramount Australia's official YouTube channel to coincide with Smile's home-media release. And, as Finn stated, the short film is conceptually quite different from its big-screen successor. Though both projects feature an entity with a sinister grin, the Smile demon warps reality around its victims while the one in Laura Hasn't Slept operates within dreams. As such, the short does not fit as a prequel to the movie.

As for what inspired him to make the short film, Finn explained he was interested in exploring a nightmare capable of materializing in the real world:

"I was really intrigued by being able to take something that felt so internal and psychological and really a product of the mind, and seeing if I could have it present in a way that felt almost supernatural and external, and how somebody who's going through that experience might be viewed by others. That was always a starting point for me. And tonally, atmospherically, I was really intrigued by that space between being asleep and being awake, and that lingering sense of a nightmare that can follow you out into your waking life. I wanted to see if I could capture that feeling on screen with the short film."

The Reason Behind The Smile

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There is a specific reason for the film's central demonic figure being characterized by a sinister smile. The unsettling trait comes from the fact that Finn was attracted to the idea of corrupting a gesture symbolizing happiness, using it instead as a twisted sign of fear and misery:

"The immediate answer is that obviously a smile is a universal symbol for warmth and friendliness and kindness, and something that everybody can relate to. I think turning that on its head and letting the evil in the film really corrupt what a smile implies was just deliciously fun."

Finn was also inspired by how smiles, despite denoting happiness, are often used to hide people's insecurities and sorrows:

"[Going] a little further in on that, what I was really interested in was how we wear smiles sometimes in reality. I think that oftentimes, we use smiles as a guard or a mask against showing the world what we're actually feeling. Whether it's just to hide awkwardness or discomfort, or if it's something much deeper than that, like guilt, or depression, or trauma, or any of these things that we're walking around with that we don't want the rest of the world to know about. I think we wear a smile as a mask, as a shorthand. I loved that metaphor for the film, and I wanted to take the metaphor of a smile as a mask and make that real for the evil in the film."

Was A Happy Ending For Rose Ever Considered?

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Smile has a tragic ending. After coming to terms with the fact that her mother's death when she was younger wasn't her fault, Rose seemingly kills the Smile creature. Unfortunately, that turns out to be an illusion. In reality, the monster was able to take control of Rose, after which she dies by suicide in front of her ex-boyfriend, Joel (Kyle Gallner), passing the curse on to him.

The traumatizing ending came as an unexpected development given Rose's major emotional breakthrough, which initially gave the impression that she would be able to beat the curse. According to Finn, despite the character's final development, a happy ending was never in the cards for her:

"[Rose's emotional catharsis] was always really important to me. I knew I wanted her to confront the stuff that she'd been living with forever; that she'd been suppressing and pushing down. It felt really important for that confrontation to happen at the end of the film and for us to earn that catharsis. But, from the very early days, I knew that I wanted to follow the supernatural elements to their worst logical conclusion, because I like endings that aren't tied up neatly with a bow. Things that can be a bit messy and chaotic and surprising are always interesting to me. And, thematically, despite our best efforts, sometimes there are just these evil, unstoppable forces of nature out there that become inevitable; they creep back up, and it felt like […] the right way [to end the film]."

Smile is available on Paramount+ and on Digital. It will be available to purchase on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K on December 13, 2022.

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