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‘Smile’ viral marketing campaign freaked out MLB fans with creepy grins in the stands

That possessed grimace you’ve seen in the trailer? Try sitting next to it at a Dodgers game.

By Benjamin Bullard
Smile (2022)

Getting paid to smile doesn’t sound like such a bad gig, eh? We guess it’s not — until you read the fine print and learn you’ve gotta do it in the most public of places, around thousands of total strangers, and with a dead-eyed rictus stretched across your face that positively creeps the daylights out of anyone who does a double-take when they realize you’re not just being friendly.

That’s the idea behind Paramount’s viral marketing trick for the aptly-titled Smile, the horror flick releasing today whose unnerving premise has possessed perpetrators carrying out dreadful acts…all while grinning, like a demon-crazed lunatic, from ear to ear. The studio has scored loads of viral buzz since placing paid “smilers” to position themselves in high-profile venues last week; the kind places where spectators (and TV cameras) couldn’t help but notice.

If you’ve been on Twitter lately, you might’ve seen the freaked-out reactions from the campaign’s paid smilers and their giant, ghoulishly out-of-place grins. They’ve shown up in the background at a handful of recent Major League Baseball games and even behind Al Roker during a live weather segment for NBC’s Today show — and the look is so distinctly different from a regular ol’ mirthful smirk that onlookers can’t help but notice…and maybe wince a little.

Director Parker Finn recently told SYFY WIRE that he quite literally put his money where his mouth is early in the movie’s development, testing out the film’s signature grin by himself in the mirror before getting the cast (led by star Sosie Bacon) to join in. “It started with me in the mirror doing it at myself,” Finn said. “And then it was about being with the actors and just smiling back and forth at each other and making little micro adjustments until we found it. I think it's really all about the eyes. That's the secret, is having these dead, blank, lifeless eyes.”

Even though the look is effectively creepy for a movie, Finn wasn’t sure at first that turning real-life smilers loose in the wild would achieve the viral marketing success that the studio had in mind. But those concerns were laid to rest once images of the odd sightings started flying across social media.

“I've got to say, Paramount marketing has been very clever with some of the tricks they've had up their sleeves for this film,” Finn confessed to Entertainment Weekly. “This is something that had been discussed a little while back and we were all kind of like crossing our fingers that somebody might notice…It was happening just organically and it was overwhelming how much that took off. It was just instantly everywhere.”

Starting today, “everywhere” is where you can find Smile as the supernatural horror film puts its best (or maybe its worst) face forward in theaters. Starring Bacon alongside Kyle Gallner, Rob Morgan, Kal Penn, Caitlin Stasey, and Jessie T. Usher, Smile is staring down a Sept. 30 premiere to start terrifying audiences nationwide.

Looking for more horror? Peacock is streaming The Black Phone, They/Them, Drag Me To Hell and more.