In Horror Film ‘Smile,’ Trauma is Contagious

Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of suicide, self-harm and trauma.

The universal representation of happiness is flipped on its head in the new horror movie “Smile.” The film centers around a woman named Rose (played by Sosie Bacon), a psychiatrist that treats patients in an emergency facility. One day, a Ph.D. student comes into the hospital after witnessing one of her professors commit suicide the previous week. The woman takes her life in front of Rose, but there’s a catch: she has a creepy smile on her face as she does it. Rose is severely scarred and wherever she goes after the incident, she sees someone smiling at her. Her mental state quickly deteriorates as strange events continue to plague her and the eerie smile follows her everywhere. She soon discovers that these suicides were part of a larger cycle: someone commits suicide in front of another person who then experiences a series of strange occurrences, the most prominent being seeing creepy smiles. About a week later, the person who witnessed the suicide will commit suicide, themselves. The plot of this film revolves around Rose’s attempt to break this cycle.

I am not easily scared by any means. Typically when I watch horror movies, I sit there with a straight face and giggle during the frightening moments. But, I have to admit, “Smile” was an exception. I was thoroughly terrified. The music in the movie was eerie and kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. There was an intense build-up in the music and, even when it was a “fake-out” jump scare such as a glass breaking, I winced.

One of the scariest aspects of the movie was simply the creepy smiles. Rose’s patient says that when she sees the smile, she experiences more fear than she has ever felt and I could easily see why. The smiles were intense, but the person smiling had no emotion behind their eyes and was extremely haunting as a result.

However, the most unsettling aspect of the movie was the underlying message about trauma. Every character in the movie who became cursed by the smiling entity had faced some sort of previous trauma in their lives. Rose, for example, found her mother after she had overdosed on pills and alcohol. Rose’s patient watched her grandmother die when she was a child. The entity feeds off of trauma, so by having a person witness another individual die, they are experiencing that person’s trauma and then passing it to another person.

While the most striking aspect of the movie is the smiles, the movie clearly conveys the theme that trauma is contagious and, if it is not processed thoroughly, will endure and take over a person’s life. The theme of the life-altering nature of trauma being developed in a frightening context was extremely effective; as it highlights just how unsettling the experience of trauma can be.

Bacon was incredible in the film. Her performances were raw and her terror and unease were evident throughout. Her well-kept persona at the beginning of the movie was effectively contrasted with her distressed nature after witnessing her patient’s suicide and the curse of the smiles. She clearly portrayed Rose’s mental spiral and paranoia, which effectively evoked both sympathy and terror in my friends and me.

While I loved this horror movie and would consider it a hit, there were a few minor misses, one of which was the non-existent chemistry between Rose and her fiancé, played by Jessie T. Usher Jr. Although their relationship was meant to be a bit rocky, it was hard to believe that the couple had any romantic chemistry whatsoever. While the ending was very scary, it was a bit rushed and hard to follow. Additionally, the message of trauma was fairly shallow, as the film did not address ways of coping with trauma and also homogenized the topic, making it seem as if trauma the same for all people. 

Overall, “Smile” is a haunting film and is a great addition to the many hit horror movies of 2022. The tale is multi-faceted and a major juxtaposition to the classic slasher movie. It is chilling, yet deep and thought-provoking and very entertaining overall. If you love a good scare and are not too freaked-out by the smiles, I would highly recommend going to see this movie.