SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you haven’t watched “Smile,” now playing in theaters.
“Do you want to talk about grief and trauma?”
Paramount’s horror film “Smile” has disturbed audiences with its violent death scenes, unsettling grins and grotesque monster, but star Sosie Bacon is cheerful speaking to Variety after its release. The movie has killed at the domestic box office, opening with a scary good $22 million and falling just 18% to $17.6 million in its sophomore weekend — more than enough for a repeat No. 1 performance at the top of the charts.
Bacon stars as psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter, who witnesses one of her patients die by suicide in front of her. The shocking death triggers a domino effect that passes a curse onto Rose, who begins having hallucinations of people with creepy smiles everywhere she looks. After investigating the string of previous suicides, Rose learns that she’s doomed to kill herself in front of someone else, which will pass along the curse to that person. Or, she can kill an innocent person and be freed from the ghastly grief-monster’s hold on her.
In the end, Rose goes to her childhood home to confront her unresolved trauma regarding her mother’s death, in hopes of defeating the monster. There, she fights a giant, deformed version of her mom and sets the house on fire, before driving to her ex Joel’s house (Kyle Gallner) for safety. However, once she’s at Joel’s house and seemingly free from the demon, Rose realizes it’s yet another hallucination and she’s actually still in her childhood home. The grief monster rips off its skin, revealing its horrible, true form, then snaps open Rose’s mouth, crawling inside of her. Fully possessed by the demon, Rose douses herself in gasoline and sets herself on fire — just as the real Joel bursts inside her home and witnesses her death, becoming the next victim.
Pretty dark stuff! With Variety, Bacon explains how she interprets the profoundly unhappy ending, whether or not Rose killed her cat Mustache at her nephew’s birthday party and what her parents, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, think of the movie.
Why do you think “Smile” has connected with people?
It feels like people are surprised at the depth of it, because maybe they were expecting more of a total jump scare thing. I think people are appreciating it for the real, grounded filmmaking. I definitely recommend people with big mom trauma to not see it. A few people have said they close their eyes for most of it, so they don’t really know what happens. I have some close people in my life who just won’t watch it. As a whole society, we are dealing for the first time with this fear that people are just dangerous, random strangers, because of COVID. It’s viral — you can catch it and everyone has been feeling that. I think that’s one parallel you could draw. Maybe it’s also that people love talking about trauma now. The younger generations, they are more aware of their emotions. It’s something people are owning much more than before. Maybe that’s why.
How do you interpret the movie’s bleak ending?
I don’t think I would have done it if it had a happy ending. That would have been so unsatisfying to me. It was so dark. For it to just be okay would’ve been sad. The positive part is that she did not go for the option where she would’ve had to actually hurt somebody else. She didn’t really have control over it. I think that’s pretty honest. A lot of times people really try their best and do everything that they can, but they don’t have control over the outcome. She tried to defeat it, which I think is really strong. But it was heartbreaking that she ended up passing it to the only person who really cares about her. Yes, it’s tragic, but I think it’s saying that sometimes, even if we try and do everything, trauma can overcome us
How did you film the scene where you set yourself on fire?
It was water. All those effects were practical, which actually made it easier to do those gnarly scenes. When we lit the house on fire, we actually lit a house on fire. It’s not like anything was fake; the monster was a monster. It was water, then we lit a match and it was in this old space that was really dark. It was actually very scary! They built a dummy of me for when I actually got my face ripped open. I didn’t watch the dummy go through it because I was really tired and just took a nap. It was my only scene off, when my dummy was playing myself.
How did you take yourself out of such a dark mindset when you weren’t filming?
It took me a little while. It’s hard to separate when something is this dark and I didn’t realize that. Not just the darkness, it’s how much I had to work and how much I had to be in that state. Normally you have a couple of scenes that are fun and light, but this one really didn’t have that. The amount of hours spent in such a state does have effect, but I tried to leave after filming. I went home, reconnected with myself a bit.
Do you think Rose actually killed Mustache, her cat?
I was living inside of her head, so I don’t think that she did it. It would be hard for me to conceptualize thinking she would do something so awful. I just don’t think she would, because she does everything she can to not hurt anybody. I have a lot of animals, so if I didn’t know where my animals were — oh my gosh, I’d have nightmares about that.
Smiles are supposed to be nice things, but why do you think they’re used so effectively as horror here?
It’s a facial expression that we’re constantly faced with and it’s supposed to be a happy one. It’s a pretty iconic image to have a mock, deranged smile. If we were not perceiving reality as value, you might switch a smile to something scary.
What did your parents think of the movie?
They hated it, they think I’m terrible — I’m just kidding. They loved it. They’re very proud. They think it’s disturbing, though, to watch.