Smile Ending Explained: What Was Behind Those Deadly Grins?

Robin Weigert as Dr. Madeline Northcott doing creepy smile in Smile 2022 movie
(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

All the SPOILERS are ahead for Smile, now playing in theaters. Put on a happy face and go see the horror movie before reading on. 

As we now sit firmly in horror season, it’s about time we got really shaken up by a 2022 movie release, isn’t it? And hey, there’s been a lot of great offerings from the genre already, but none until now that might actually ruin smiles for us, at least for a little while. Now that we’ve seen the horrors that can lie behind a grin, we have to talk about that spine-chilling Smile ending.

Smile follows Sosie Bacon’s Dr. Rose Cotter --  a performance that has been praised by none-other than Stephen King -- as a psychiatrist working in a hospital who sees a patient who at first begins rambling about these dark things she’s been experiencing before spontaneously screaming and then suddenly, finding a massive grin on her face and keeping that frown upside down as she kills herself with a broken piece of a vase right in front of Rose. Following the incident, Rose begins becoming haunted by the same thing the woman warned her about just before her death. Now, to get into what is behind those deadly grins and whether she avoids the same fate. 

Caitlin Stasey as Laura Weaver smile death Smile 2022 movie

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

What Was Behind Those Smiles?

Through Rose’s desperate investigation of the smiles that terrorize her, we learn that she is part of a long running chain of incidents involving a person killing themselves in front of another person while grinning before the witness then goes on to kill themselves  in front of someone else. Through her investigation with Kyle Gallner’s Joel, they find this chain of events, which has continued to occur within a week of the previous person. They also find that there’s been one instance of a person surviving the smile by killing someone else in front of someone and the smile haunting transferring through those means. 

While it’s never completely explained who exactly the villain is, it seems to be an incredibly powerful evil entity, like a demon of some sort, who feeds on the trauma of others. Once it transfers itself to a person, it can go inside their head and dig out the person’s deepest fears and agonies and use them to haunt the person into a state of absolute horror, leading themselves to ultimately give in to them, where the evil entity then fully takes over and kills them -- the big smile on their face marking its victory over them -- and taking their life. 

Sosie Bacon as Rose Cotter in Smile ending

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

What Happened At The End Of Smile 

In the week that Rose becomes haunted by the smile, her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher) becomes concerned with her behavior and their relationship quickly goes on the rocks. Additionally, her sister distances herself from Rose when the demon makes her kill her cat Mustache and wraps it in the present for her nephew (her sister’s son), which he frightfully unwraps during his birthday party. Additionally, Rose brings up concern from her boss (Kal Penn) when she calls doctors on one of her patients on her first day back when she sees him “smiling,” and is commanded to take a short leave. In other words, the evil entity cuts Rose off from her entire life and support system. He even haunts her by embodying her therapist as well. 

With her life in ruins, all that’s left is her ex-boyfriend and cop Joel -- who becomes the only one who believes her -- and the string of suicides she is now linked to. Joel helps her locate the only man who survived the smile, through murdering someone and being sent to prison. During their visit, the inmate becomes intensely frightened by the possibility of the entity coming back to him and insists killing someone else is her only option. Instead of waiting for her to find the same fate as the others, or resorting to killing someone, Rose decides there’s one way she might be able to stop the chain of deaths. 

Rose goes away to her abandoned childhood home where her own mother died in her bedroom, in an implied drug overdose that a young Rose was present for, but was too frightened to act on her cries for help in her last moments. The childhood trauma led Rose to become a psychiatrist to help other people with mental health struggles she feels she can save after she felt helpless to assist her mother as a kid. Rose’s plan is that if no one else is around, then the evil entity can not continue its trend of killing people and moving over to new bodies.

When Rose locks herself in her childhood home alone, it’s not long before the evil being reveals itself in a bigger way, soon after playing more mind tricks by appearing to bring to life her late mother in the same clothes and place where she died in front of her. The smile monster uses Rose’s mind and imagination to haunt her further, also bringing her to imagine going back to Joel’s home where she confesses why she was afraid of their relationship and ultimately things ended between them. Joel dons the creepy smile too before Rose finds herself still in the same house. 

The creature unveils itself as an incredibly disturbing demonic being that tells her that her life’s traumas are “so inviting” to it. It then begins to merge with Rose through her mouth as we catch up with Joel, who finds Rose’s location and enters the house. When he gets there, he finds Rose burning herself alive whilst grinning. As we see the fire blaze through Joel’s eyes, we can surmise that the chain of deaths will unfortunately continue past Rose. 

Sosie Bacon in horror in Smile movie 2022 ending

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The Deeper Meaning Behind Smile

Aside from being a really effective horror movie visually and story-wise, Smile’s concept and ending overall also can speak to a larger meaning regarding the cycles of mental health struggles that continue to emerge and reemerge in society, especially as we hide our inner turmoils with fake smiles. In my own reading of the film, Rose’s decision to go back to her childhood home and break the cycle was in an effort to face her childhood trauma head on rather than leave it boiled up in her. She literally faced her inner demons, however in this instance it got the best of her and she was a bit too late. In my opinion, the Smile ending is a heartbreaking reminder that one person facing their demons does not break a larger cycle within society of masking our real emotions and ignoring the larger societal issues that help create them, but remain hidden from our view. When I spoke to writer/director Parker Finn about this aspect of the movie, here’s what he told CinemaBlend: 

I was really interested in kind of investigating the sort of the stuff that we're all carrying around inside of our heads. Whether it's our fears, anxieties, traumas and what we do to try to mask that from the world. And then at the same time I wanted to explore and really place the audience in the shoes of a character who feels like their mind is turning against them and what that might be like to experience and sort of present that in a way that audiences may not have thought of before. And I really wanted to do something so like internal and psychological, but also bring in these external extraordinary elements and kind of weave them together till they're indistinguishable.

We’ll leave you with that. Smile has been rightfully been met with positive reviews overall from critics, including through CinemaBlend’s own 4 out of 5 star review of Smile. With horror season in full swing, check out what other upcoming horror movies are creeping up next.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.