There is just over a month to go until the premiere of ‘Smile’ (2022), one of the most unexpected horror films of the year, whose hype has been building since the premiere of a disturbing teaser with a smiling man that went viraland then the trailer, which accumulates almost 20 million views and was a trigger for a conversation on networks that has been growing as the release date approaches.
Paramount releases it worldwide on September 30. and the secrecy around it has caused it to generate a lot of curiosity, especially since it doesn’t seem to fit the current trend of horror movies with drama and folk horror nor does it fit the trend of slasher or adolescent cinema, despite the fact that its premise could be reminiscent of that of the film ‘Truth or dare’ (2017). Without a doubt, what is most surprising is that it is a concept film, that it does not belong to any franchise or is a reboot.
Its manager is Parker Finn, a rookie almost out of nowhere (he only has a couple of shorts to his credit) with which we have had the opportunity to chat world exclusive to try to decipher what movie is hidden behind the trailer. One of curses like ‘The Ring’ (2002)? A more abstract and subjective psychological horror? Both thing at a time? Everything that can be known without revealing any of its surprises has been revealed to us in an extensive interview that we offer you in full.
Exclusive interview with Parker Finn, director of ‘SMILE’
Espinof: We have not been able to see too much of the film, just a teaser. It seems that it has appeared out of nowhere and with just a few seconds it went viral. Explain us. What is Smile?
Parker Finn: We’re really happy that we were able to do the movie in secret, and suddenly bring it out in one swoop and be able to surprise everyone, we’ve had a great time planning that. Smile tells the story of a psychiatrist who has a very bizarre encounter with a patient and then she begins to experience a series of impossible and terrifying events that she cannot explain and she begins to think that something evil has entered her life.
E: Your short ‘Laura hasn’t sleep’ seems to be related to ‘Smile’, to what extent is it inspired by it or are they connected?
PF: I shot it in 2019 and it became the blackboard on which ‘Smile’ was born, there are many parallels between the two and they share the same DNA, but I see them as spiritual relatives, anyone who has seen the short will recognize many of the threats that run the film, but this is something very independent at the same time, I wanted to do something that would stand on its own, what is interesting is that the actress Caitlyn Staseywho is the protagonist of the short appears in ‘Smile’.
E: She’s the girl with the scariest smile in the trailer, right?
PF: Yes, that smile is amazing, definitely.
E: He also sells the film. Is it yours one hundred percent? Isn’t there post-production or filters to make it more terrifying like in ‘Truth or Dare’?
PF: It was very important to me that any smile came from the actor’s performance, it’s something we work a lot on. I didn’t want toi special effects or CGI or anything like that, I think it’s more sinister, weird and disturbing to rely on human capabilities and we don’t stop trying until we get what we want.
E: What trick, as a director, did you use to make those smiles so scary?
PF: Well, I usually stop to think what it is that scares me to me and before working with any of the actors I actually practiced the smile and developed it myself at home, to get an idea of what it conveyed and when it came to showing it to the actors you would have found it very fun to be there, me in front of the actors looking at us and smiling at each other until we got the point right.
In the shooting process, everything is based on the decisions you make, every little detail makes a difference because of what they influence from the lenses we choose, the way of lighting, and how the character is placed in front of the rest of the elements, all those elements around, all the ingredients add up to achieve those sinister and unreal moments.
E: Could you give us any clue about the footage of the film? We have few clues about too many things.
PF: It’s definitely over 90 minutes, but at the same time it’s under two hours. The fun of all of this is that we were able to get a trailer out into the world and it’s amazing to be able to see everyone’s reaction to the concept that it presents, but what’s really exciting is knowing that the movie is really full of additional surprises that I’m sure they will catch the public by surprise and to be able to show you something that I’m sure you haven’t seen before.
E: Have you verified it by passing it in front of the public, in test screenings or private screenings?
PF: It’s gone through all the typical studio processes that lead to a release these days, of course, but it’s been kept pretty secret in the studio and very few people have seen it and I think that’s the optimal situation because I think that when people start to see it, I really want to observe the conversation that may take place around the film because I am convinced that people you will like to talk about it.
E: Was there filming in a pandemic? What difficulties did you find?
PF: We shot during the fall of 2021, there was still quite a lot of covid, so we worked with all the usual protocols, it is something that of course has an effect on the production, but we had a very well calculated schedule and we stuck to the plan with what that we managed to shoot everything we had hoped to achieve.
It is one of those things that, in the end, can be an impediment to strictly complying with, but in the end it ends up being organically integrated into the process of making the film, and you end up getting used to it, at some point you forget that you are wearing a mask, or a screen and everything else, so in the end it all comes down to doing what needs to be done to get the movie off the ground.
E: Were you then able to shoot everything you expected? Was the budget enough? can it be revealed?
PF: Sure, yes. Any production is always difficult to start with but we had a great team ready for that and we were able to achieve everything we wanted. The money we have? That’s a big question for the producers of the film (laughs).
E: Where does the idea that a smile can be terrifying come from, where does the concept come from?
PF: I was very interested in exploring the idea of terror underneath everything we deal with every day and I was passionate about the idea of fear that can cause your mind to rebel against you, at the same time I am attracted to the feeling when you have lived difficult experiences in life or you carry traumas with you and you begin to see it as a curse, so I asked myself, what would happen if everything that torments you and what you have in your head becomes a curse is he really coming for you?
In relation to the smile itself, for me the choice of that gesture as a representation of evil is based on the inherent strangeness that exists in the contradiction. Smiles are a display of warmth, friendship, kindness and something that is a primary emotion, we learn to smile as babies even before we speakis embedded in the essence of being human, so I wanted to see if I could turn that image around and make a smile represent something diabolical, threatening and dangerous, a predatory gesture.
E: This whole angle is interesting, since the trailer seems to show a movie with influence of psychological horror heir to Polanski, and at the same time something new, within the realm of creepypasta and viral horror, it seems a collision of both concepts.
PF: First of all, thanks for those comparisons, I feel very flattered, because it’s the cinema that I adore, I definitely wanted ‘Smile’ to have influences from classic horror movies from the 70s, 80s and 90s, but at the same time to have a modern feel for ccreate something that truly seems timeless.
On the one hand it’s intensely psychological and at the same time shockingly visceral and physical, there are a few terrifying moments that I hope will make people jump out of their seats and scream but at the same time it’s supported by a growing sense of uneasiness that will hopefully if I’d done my job right, it should have stayed under my skin after the credits rolled.
E: At the end of the trailer there is a little scare with a body horror moment that makes your hair stand on end and is very unexpected. Can we expect other moments like this in ‘Smile’?
PF: Yes, the biggest thing you can expect in the movie is that you shouldn’t necessarily expect anything. With ‘Smile’ we wanted to challenge the conventional in every corner, I love movies that are able to surprise me and I can’t guess where they are going and I think it’s important in a horror movie that unexpected ways are continually found to scare me.
There are a lot of different kinds of scares and horror moments and mysteries that people are going to unravel as the movie goes on and in my opinion there is nothing that can prepare people for what is going to happen.
I: That image of the woman with her head hanging down is very reminiscent of Junji Ito, are you a fan of his work?
PF: Yes! I love Junji Ito, my favorite is ‘Uzumaki’I love ‘Tomie’ and a lot of his work, he’s fantastic and I think he’s one of the greatest masters of body horror of our time.
E: What are your biggest influences as a director?
PF: Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors of all time and he is constantly on my mind in everything I do. ‘The Shining’ is probably one of my favorite movies I have always been inspired by all the sensations generated by Jack Torrance’s process of going crazy, but of course Kubrick’s way of framing and composing has had an impact on my work.
E: And what more specific films have inspired ‘Smile’?
PF: The other works that have had an impact on ‘Smile’ are the two ‘The Ring’, both ‘Ringu’ by Hideo Nakata like Gore Verbinski’s, on the one hand I wanted the movie to feel like that kind of viral urban legend, where suddenly it’s complete and you’re in their crosshairs, something that inherently gets under their skin and makes them think twice about it. next time they smile.
Other movies that I really like and were flying around in my head when I was making the movie is ‘Safe’ by Todd Haynesthe anxiety that it produces is very palpable in that film, the way in which it puts us subjectively in the mind of the character of Julianne Moore was something that I really wanted to learn and apply in my film, to really live in the subjective perspective of a character .
And another Japanese movie that I love deeply and has always shaken me to the bone is Cure by Kiyoshi KurosawaI love its ability to seem like all of it is like a dream or a nightmare and in that sense I think of ‘Smile’ as a nightmare that constantly grows as you look at it, even with the same sensation of a nightmare, the same logic, that’s definitely something I wanted to introduce.
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Warner can only afford to promote two movies in 2022
At this point I wouldn’t be surprised Yakko, Wakko and Dot hid under Zaslav’s skin (the Animaniacs), who have been screwing it up for a few weeks. At least it would be a logical explanation before this continuous tidal wave of news coming from Warner Bros Discovery, between the secret passes of ‘Batgirl’, the elimination of series and the sale of very powerful projects of its franchises for HBO Max. Now comes another worrying update: Apparently, they have so little money for movie promotion in the remainder of the year that have been forced to move the dates of some of their most important films.
Don’t worry Zaslav.
The truth is that, being objective, the new dates proposed for ‘Aquaman and the lost kingdom’ and ‘Shazam! The fury of the gods’ are better because they avoid direct confrontation with ‘Avatar: sense of water’, but still rumors have spread. The sequel to ‘Shazam!’ can now be seen on March 17, 2023, three months after the original plan… and that of ‘Aquaman’ will go to December 25, 2023! Nine months apart in which not a few say that there will be numerous reshoots.
Keep in mind that this delay is not a small thing. 16 months (16 months!) until the premiere of ‘Aquaman 2’ can hurt the expectations of it (so much waiting for the end makes the hype go away). ‘The Flash’, for its part, is still announced for June 23but with Warner and Ezra’s erratic behavior, who knows if we’ll ever see it.
But not everything is bad news for the company: in addition to announcing the delay of two of its most important films, it has also raised the level of two direct premieres for HBO Max, which will now be seen in theaters: ‘Evil Dead Rise’, which takes the place of ‘The mystery of Salem’s Lot’ on April 21, 2023 (King’s adaptation remains, for the moment, in a drawer) and the remake of ‘House party’, on December 9 of this year.
Thus, apart from ‘House party’, Warner will release this year only two tapes, ‘Don’t worry honey’ and ‘Black Adam’, saving many of the highlights for 2023: Aquaman, Flash, Shazam and Blue Beetle. Is this plan well thought out or is it an elephant in a china shop trying to balance projects that they can no longer turn back? We’ll see, because this soap opera is still far from over…