‘Smile’ Director Interview: Parker Finn on Jump Scares
The first-time director of the hit horror film is less interested in metaphors and more interested in “scaring you to death.”
It sometimes feels like horror is at a crossroads, as certain fans seem determined to further divide the genre into arbitrary categories. As art-house horror films like “The Witch” and “Hereditary” have risen in popularity in recent years, fans and directors alike have sought to create new terms of discussion to distinguish intellectual, metaphor-driven horror films from their supposedly simple counterparts. The phrase “sublime horror” might turn some eyes from serious fans (John Carpenter, for example, couldn’t care less about the term), but in certain circles it has become a category unto itself.
Ask any upscale horror devotee what their favorite metaphor is, and you’ll often get the same answer: trauma. Who could forget the viral montage of Jamie Lee Curtis listening to everyone who will listen that “Halloween Ends” is actually about traumatic experiences? It’s not a false analysis, but it’s not uncommon for horror lovers to express a wish for films to start taking themselves less seriously.
Type: “Smile”. When Parker Finn’s directorial debut hit theaters in late September, it wowed audiences and critics alike, topping the box office for two consecutive weekends and grossing over $210 million (versus a budget of $17 million). Many praised the fact that the film was uncompromisingly silly and gory, and not afraid to wow audiences with tried-and-true genre tropes. It seemed like proof that there was still a market for horror movies that felt like horror movies.
There’s just one problem with this theory: “Smile” is actually about trauma.
The film follows a doctor in a mental hospital (Sosie Bacon) who watches a patient commit suicide and is soon stalked by an unseen entity that is occupying the bodies of those around her. It keeps popping up in unexpected places and identifying with the scariest smile you’ve ever seen. Anyone who sees it ends up brutally killing themselves, passing the curse on to anyone who saw them. Without spoiling anything, the characters realize that the key to safety might be found by going back to their traumatic childhood experiences.
In a new interview with IndieWire, Finn opened up about the success he’s found splitting the difference between highbrow and lowbrow horror. From his point of view, metaphors are great – but they’re only half the battle.
“I love horror as a metaphor,” Finn told IndieWire. “But I think as a viewer, I get frustrated when it just goes as far as the metaphor and doesn’t commit to actually becoming something that’s designed to scare you to death.”
One of Finn’s favorite ways of doing this also happens to be walking Another one of horror’s most polarizing tropes: the jumping scares. Many have dismissed jump scares as a lazy way to startle audiences without actually scaring them, and consider the lack of them in elevated horror films to be one of the subgenre’s selling points. But Finn still loves it when a villain jumps out of a bush when you least expect it. For him, it’s just another way to create the viscerally spooky experiences that set horror apart from other genres.
“Some people will never love a jumpscare, but I love a good jumpscare,” he said. “I wanted to infuse the film with jump scares that felt deserved and designed to keep the audience engaged, kind of revved up and changed how it scares you.”
As Finn progresses in his horror directing career (he’s starting to come up with ideas for a sequel, but hasn’t decided on anything that would top “Smile”), he hopes to continue to exist in that middle ground between character-centric drama and the stuff being able to do that makes the audience scream.
“I wanted to make a film that’s really focused on the craft, that creates an experience that’s quite unique, that’s also a character-driven story that explores the human condition,” he said. “But he would also make the audience jump out of their seats and scream a lot.”
“Smile” is now streaming on Paramount+.
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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/11/smile-director-interview-parker-finn-1234783684/ ‘Smile’ Director Interview: Parker Finn on Jump Scares