New horror movie ‘Smile’ is becoming a hit at the box office this month. Parker Finn, the film’s writer and director, recently was interviewed by Polygon magazine at Fantastic Fest to discuss how he thinks the movie’s connected to so many audience members due to its representation of anxiety, trauma, and mental illness in general.
“I think it’s so relatable. Everybody walks around carrying these things inside of themselves that are deeply rooted in them at their core, that are based on their histories and traumas.”
Finn continued to discuss how he wanted to use that feeling that so many can relate to, “and also explore what it might be like to have your mind turning against you. For me, that’s one of my greatest fears.”
Finn suggests that “due to events around the COVID-19 quarantines, feelings of stress and anxiety have become their own parallel epidemic.”
“I developed and wrote and ended up shooting this movie all during the pandemic, when I think we were all traumatized and feeling a sense of isolation and a fear of transmission. The idea that trauma could beget trauma was really present in my brain, and I think it just crept its way into the script,” he explained.
Finn also broke down how society has become much more open when it comes to talking about mental health and the many different ways it impacts humanity.
“I think it’s something that as a society, we’ve all started to confront more. I think it’s in the air. It’s something we’re all aware of: Everybody’s got trauma of some sort in their life, whether it’s great or small, things they carry around with them that they don’t talk about.”
“We all put these masks on to hide our trauma, which was very much a motif in the film, with the smile being a metaphor, a mask,” he says, referring to the common feeling of “hiding behind a smile” that many individuals who suffer from mental pain can relate to.
The movie itself follows protagonis Rose, played by Sosie Bacon, as she navigates her own deep traumas from her childhood in relation to her mother’s death. Rose herself is a therapist, so while she’s used to helping others navigate their own mental health journeys, she’s not used to feeling her own internal struggle and confrontation with her past.
“I wanted to do something that felt like what it would be like to be to experience [a breakdown], to put yourself in someone’s shoes and maybe look at [other people’s experiences and traumas] in a way we haven’t considered before,” Finn says.
“I think it’s a universal theme for everyone, this idea that we’re all afraid of not being believed, especially by the people closest to us. That’s terrifying.”
Finn explained how he worked with psychologists throughout the production of the film to get the most accurate representation of when others don’t believe someone when they discuss their personal struggles, as well as convey the pain that one feels when they feel like they’re not being heard.
“I think it’s always a balance, but I wanted to trust the audience and respect their intelligence and their emotions. And I love messy movies. I want people to feel different things. And sometimes you want to provoke them. Sometimes you want them to feel a ton of sympathy or empathy, but you always want to make it complicated for the audience. That’s when a movie is doing its job, right?” he expressed.
Finn’s hope regarding ‘Smile’ is to “add to the conversation” surrounding mental illness in a horror context so that the movie is not only scary on the surface, but in its deeper meaning as well.
“I think as a society, we’ve started to speak better about mental health and therapy and trauma, things like that. But we’re still not really there. It’s not something people understand. So I wanted to use this as a parallel and a device to explore something that hopefully would get people to think a little differently about what it might be like to be actually experiencing those sorts of things,” Finn concluded.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.