Hide Your Smiling Faces


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"A poetic and tense debut that explores not so much the coming of age as the coming of mortality."

This year has been particularly popular for indie stories of boys roaming about in the backwoods. Played for laughs in Kings Of Summer, given a quasi-mythic feel by Jeff Nichols in Mud and used in David Gordon Green's manchild curiosity Prince Avalanche, Daniel Patrick Carbone's Hide Your Smiling Faces recalls Green's early work with its raw and naturalistic feel. He explores what little boys - and those who are almost adult - are made of, even if he is ultimately more interested in mood than substance.

Like most young boys, mid-teen Eric (Nathan Varson) and his younger brother Tommy (Ryan Jones) have a fascination with all things feral - whether it's making the sound of a missile drop as they muck about with a dead bird, spraying the contents of mystery cans on a cut just to see how much it will hurt or trying to break one another's wrists until "mercy" is called for, there's a curiosity and an underlying craving to be part of the pack. Pain is something to be inflicted or tolerated in the name of a game with chums and death is only identified with as a provider of noxious objects to play around with.

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The presence of a real handgun in this lush green landscape brings with it a sense of peril for us the viewer - although not as much as the sight of a viaduct with a stomach-churning drop beneath it and only the flimsiest of rusty handrails. Interestingly, during their first encounter with the gun, the boys seem unconcerned by its fatal possibilities and more fixated on wrestling with it with no thought for the consequences - the arrival of a menacing and angry parent (Colm O’Leary) presenting them with a much more immediate threat.

Later, tragedy strikes, although the circumstances of it are never fully explained, and the boys find themselves confronted with mortality in a way that doesn't usually happen until children have completed the journey to the foreign land of adulthood.

Their world has changed on a dime and Carbone - with the help of Robert Donne’s spartan, elctro-inflected score - taps into their brooding anxieties, from Eric's unspoken angst in the face of the suicidal thoughts of his friend to Tommy's sudden escalation of fear in rough and tumble games with his brother. Grief and anxiety wrestle with one another, although Carbone remains stubbornly concerned with the emotional landscape rather than plot, leading to the film feeling frustratingly rudderless at times.

It is obvious that much of the sparse scripting has a basis in the improvisation of the youngsters, and while this adds a welcome rawness to many of the scenes, it occasionally feels pushed too hard, as though the youngsters feel as though they have to say something pertinent, for example, about the spiders that live in the dilapidated house when 'real' children would probably be holding much more free-ranging dialogue. This is nevertheless a poetic and tense debut that explores not so much the coming of age as the coming of mortality.

Reviewed on: 25 Nov 2013
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Tragedy forces a group of children to confront their own mortality.
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Director: Daniel Patrick Carbone

Starring: Ryan Jones, Nathan Varnson, Colm O'Leary

Year: 2013

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: US

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