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'Smile' Fails To Tackle Mental Health Stigmas By Making Suicide A Terror Device

Photo: Paramount Pictures
Smile movie

Recently released horror movie, "Smile," may live up to all the expectations it has set in terms of fear factor but, when it comes to the duty the film has to themes of mental illness and suicidal ideation, the movie falters horrendously.

The movie is based on its writer and director Parker Finn's 2020 short horror film “Laura Hasn’t Slept.”

In its lead role is Sosie Bacon, star of “Mare of Eastown,” as Dr. Rose Cotter, a dedicated therapist who works with mentally ill patients.

Depicting violent deaths by suicide and delving into themes of trauma, the movie attempts to tackle some highly triggering topics but barely manages to pay them any respect.

"Smile" makes a spectacle out of mental health issues.

The film follows Rose whose world is changed when her patient Laura (Caitlin Stasey), comes to her swearing that an entity is haunting her.

She claims the person is wearing the masks of other people and smiling at her, telling her she is going to die. 

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Rose thinks she’s just suffering from paranoid delusions and after she can’t get through to her patient, Laura then gets up, smiles and then slices her own throat with a piece of a cracked vase.

The rest of the movie follows Rose as she now has to dodge the entity Laura warned her about, being forced to confront her deepest and darkest traumas in the process. 

“Smile” doesn’t shy away from the dark thoughts that mental illness brings but many after seeing the movie are condemning it for the way it treats this topic.

“Smile” makes trauma its antagonist. 

It’s easy to see the metaphor the movie plays up. People who deal with depression or dark thoughts are constantly told to just smile more, to just ‘stop being sad.’ 

But viewers have taken to social media to warn others that the movie ought to be avoided by people impacted by the topics central to the plot. 



“Please watch this movie with discretion. It’s a great horror film. However, no spoilers, if you are somebody who deal with mental health issues, if you’re in a dark time right now I would maybe say hold off. That movie is dark,” a TikTok user named Gem warned followers. 

The movie makes the experience of mental illness sufferers a spectacle and creates a vision of hopelessness.

If this is intended to be an indictment of our nation's lackluster healthcare services or a condemnation of how we stigmatize mental illness, it achieves that to a point.

Rose is intensely marginalized while attempt to battle whatever it is that is impacting her.

But, when it comes to offering a commentary on how mental illness sufferers deal with trauma, the movie doesn't have much to say.

It alludes to, but never fully explores, Rose's own traumatic childhood and, overall, makes the concept of suicidal thoughts a monstrosity.

As the movie progresses, it makes trauma, mental illness, and suicide a terror device, succumbing to the stigmas it is simultaneously trying to tackle. 

The ending of "Smile" has divided viewers.

Spoilers ahead!

In the end, Rose ends up succumbing to the entity and killing herself by fire, smiling as the flames claim her. 

This left viewers feeling bleak.  

“The lead character has all the right tools and does all the right things a person struggling with suicide ideation should do and still she succumbs to suice/ ‘the curse.’ It suggests mental illness is unlivable, suicide is inevitable,” one Twitter user wrote. 

While the ending certainly makes for a great horror movie moment, viewers are left feeling mixed messages from the end of the film. 

If you or someone you love is in a crisis, call the 24-hour Suicide & Crisis hotline 988.

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Victoria Soliz is a writer with YourTango who covers news and entertainment content. Her work explores pop culture trends, film and TV, and celebrity news