‘Smile’ Director Interview: Parker Finn on Jump Scares

The first-time director of the hit horror movie is less interested in metaphors than he is in “scaring you.”

Sometimes it feels like horror is at a crossroads, as certain fans seem intent on further dividing the genre into arbitrary categories. As arthouse horror films like “The Witch” and “Hereditary” have grown in popularity in recent years, fans and directors alike have tried to create new terms of discussion to differentiate highbrow, metaphor-based horror films. from their supposedly vulgar counterparts. The phrase “elevated horror” might catch the eye of some serious fans (John Carpenter, for example, I couldn’t care less about the term), but in certain circles it has become a category unto itself.

Ask an elevated horror devotee about their favorite metaphor, and you’ll often get the same answer: trauma. Who could forget the viral mounting of Jamie Lee Curtis telling everyone who would listen that “Halloween Ends” was actually about traumatic experiences? It’s not an incorrect analysis, but it’s not uncommon to hear horror lovers express their wish that movies be taken less seriously again.

Get into: “Smile.” When she hit theaters at the end of September, parker finnThe feature-length directorial debut delighted audiences and critics alike, topping the box office for two consecutive weekends, earning more than $210 million in the process (against a budget of $17 million). Many praised the fact that the film was goofy, gory, and wasn’t afraid to thrill audiences with time-tested genre tropes. It seemed like proof that there was still a market for horror movies that feel like horror movies.

There’s only one problem with that theory: “Smile” is actually about trauma.

The film follows a doctor at a mental hospital (Sosie Bacon) who watches a patient commit suicide and is soon tormented by an invisible being that occupies the bodies of the people around her. She keeps showing up in unexpected places, identifying herself with the creepiest smile you’ve ever seen. Everyone who sees it eventually commits brutal suicide and passes the curse on to whoever saw it. Without spoiling anything, the characters realize that the key to safety can be found by delving into their traumatic childhood experiences.

In a new interview with IndieWire, Finn spoke about the success he’s found dividing the difference between highbrow horror and vulgar horror. The way he sees it, 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 to the metaphor and doesn’t commit to becoming something designed to scare you.”

One of Finn’s favorite methods of doing that, too, is through other one of the most polarizing tropes in horror: the jump scare. Many have dismissed jump scares as a lazy way to shock 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 bad guy jumps out of a bush when you least expect it. To him, it’s just another way to create viscerally terrifying experiences that separate horror from other genres.

“Some people will never love a jump scare, but I love a good jump scare,” he said. “I wanted to infuse the film with scares that felt earned and were designed in a way that would keep the audience on their toes, increasing and changing the way they scare you.”

As Finn progresses in his career as a horror director (he’s starting to toss around sequel ideas, but hasn’t settled on anything better than “Smile”), he hopes to continue to exist in that middle ground between drama-centric in characters and things. that makes the audience scream.

“I wanted to make a film that was really focused on the craft, that created a fairly unique experience, that was also a character-driven story that explored the human condition,” he said. “But it was also going to make the audience jump out of their seats and scream a lot.”

“Smile” is now streaming on Paramount+.

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