Director Parker Finn on Bleak Ends & Sequel Potential
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to director Parker Finn about his popular horror film to smile. Finn talked about the appeal of dark endings and how to use gore properly. to smile is now available to purchase digitally and stream on Paramount+.
“After Dr. Rose Cotter witnessed a bizarre, traumatic incident with a patient, she experiences frightening events that she cannot explain,” reads the film’s synopsis. “Rose must confront her troubling past in order to survive and escape her terrifying new reality.”
Tyler Treese: I read that the film was originally slated for a streaming release but got such good test screenings that they moved it to the theaters. What did that studio support really mean to you as they cranked it up and made it a big release?
Parker Finn: Yes, right from the start, the opportunity to do this film with Paramount was absolutely a dream come true. I was very excited that they stood behind the film and gave me, as a filmmaker, the means to make it happen for the first time. When that decision was made to take the film to a wide theatrical release, it felt like a real Pinch Me moment. It was beyond exciting and I have to salute Paramount for putting such a great effort behind it and putting together an amazing marketing campaign. I want to make films that are meant to be big and loud and seen in a collaborative experience. That was the intention when it was made to smile. [I’m] I’m so glad people see it that way.
The marketing was really inventive. I loved seeing people in the NBA playoffs smile so creepily in the crowd. How cool was it to see all the different ideas they had about it?
It was great fun. We had a lot of meetings and what I love about Paramount’s marketing is how good they are at thinking outside the box. They wanted to make something that felt unique. They wanted to do something that felt really guerrilla, and the idea of sending smiles to sporting events came up. You always said, “We don’t want to put our thumbs on the scales. We don’t want it to feel forced. We just want to see if we can get people to notice organically.” I remember when that started to take off and started getting reposted everywhere and shared very widely too be… it was so cool. People have to connect the dots and figure it out. And so many people I think suddenly had no idea the movie existed because they were watching a baseball game. It was a lot of fun to be there.
When you watch a movie these days, there’s almost always a very certain happy ending. You don’t go that way. It’s not a happy ending. What went into the decision not to end the curse and have a little fly in the ointment there? I’m sure it shocked many viewers.
I’m not a big fan of ends tied neatly with a bow. I think sometimes it can be too easy or maybe not sound as true as the rest of the movie. I knew early on that I was interested in following this story to its worst logical conclusion. But I also wanted to make sure there was an emotional catharsis beforehand, you know? I guess I kinda wanted to have my cake and eat it too. But to see if we could give Rose that ending to the journey we’ve been on with her — that really personal journey — hopefully that would feel satisfying. But at the same time I think that sometimes there is just evil in the universe and you can’t always stop an inevitable force of nature. To me it felt like there was something really, really evil about doing that. I don’t know, it was always part of the story.
I love that. And the movie was such a hit and had some smart worlds. You could do a sequel that happens at the end of the movie, but you’re also like, “Oh, there are these other chains in different countries.” There are so many great spots that you could start in spinoffs. Did you have that in mind when you created this world, or is it now just a happy coincidence that it’s so successful, that there are so many starting points?
Never in a million years did I think people would ask me about another one of these movies, which is amazing! I think there’s a lot of exciting things that could be done in the world of to smile. There’s a lot of corners I left intentionally unexplored and things I wish I could have done in the first one, but there just wasn’t room for it. That would be really exciting. What I think about is really important to smile the character story takes center stage and how the character’s emotionality and themes are so closely tied to the action. And that’s really important, I think, that if there was ever a thought for more to smile, that that would be part of what it does and that it would feel… maybe unexpected from what we experienced in the first film. Another film might do something that feels completely different but is still unique to smile at the same time.
One thing I really loved about the film was the uncertainty. With the mental imagination, you can put the work down for those ways that are teased, but it doesn’t go down. So how much fun was it to live up to viewers’ expectations and be able to take them on such a wild ride?
I really love creating things that have a real element of audience participation. I really enjoy it when I can make people jump in their seats or squirm or laugh nervously because they’re really uncomfortable, or then in moments like jump out of their seats in surprising ways. I love leading an audience down a path and then knocking the rug out from under them – it’s one of my favorite things to do. But it also felt very connected to the themes of the film: what is happening to Rose and what the supernatural elements are doing to her. The film does the same with the audience and creates for the audience the same experience that the character is feeling. I really love that element of the film.
Have you been able to go to some cinemas and watch regular moviegoers experience it and ride along?
Yes, I went to a couple of opening weekend screenings that were really fun because they were sold out and I just went anonymously and watched with the audience. The only reason to do all this is for the audience and to hear them connect and embrace the film as it seems when you are in the cinema with it is amazing. Making a film is so much hard work and that’s what it’s worth.
There are some really imaginative and funny death scenes in this film. How was the decision of how much blood is too much?
I love gore that is used well when it is precise. Knowing when to exercise caution and when to go all-in on something is an important line to walk in my opinion. There are many different cinematic elements that come together around the blood or the violence that I think will hopefully enhance the experience such as the way we use the camera, the performances, the sound design and the Score. Bring everything [that] Putting things together while combining practical effects with VFX you can create this really disturbing experience and I was just really happy that we were able to create some of them.