Hide Your Smiling Faces

Posted by Michael Parsons on March 24, 2014 in / 1 Comment


The universe is an infinitely complex mystery. Think of all the unanswered questions that you might have as an adult –  the possibility of an afterlife, the empty void that may await instead – and the certainty that one day, inevitably, you will die. The fact that you are a mere speck in this ever-evolving, immeasurably large mass of energy that will, one way or another, re-absorb you when your time comes, is quite a headful. Indeed, if you dwell on stuff like that for too long, you’re bound to go mad.

Though you won’t find  the answers to these questions in “Hide Your Smiling Faces”,  it might help you remember the time in your life when you first started asking them. Writer/director Daniel Patrick Carbone’s vague but intermittently captivating exploration of adolescence, spirituality and mortality is about as elusive with its plot as the meaning of life itself, but it manages to capture the fleeting essence of childhood and the curiosity and confusion that goes along with it. Beginning like an outtake reel from “Stand By Me”, the film follows a group of young New England boys during what seems like a typical summer as they play in abandoned houses, beat the tar out of each other, and poke at dead animals. There’s something cosmic at play here, but Carbone seems intent on having the viewer figure it out for themselves.

HYSF_Bike_Ridehide-your-smiling-faces-imageWhen  teenager Eric (Nathan Varnson) and his 9-year-old brother Tommy (Ryan Jones) discover the body of their young friend Ian (Ivan Tomic) at the bottom of a bridge, it’s uncertain whether he’d jumped, fallen or been pushed. Only moments before that, they’re all playing in Ian’s yard, when the boy emerges with a handgun he’d  taken from the work shed. We assume tragedy is imminent; the kids wrestle around with the gun for a good 30 seconds as if they didn’t know any better before Ian’s father (Colm O’Leary) intervenes, taking the weapon and sending everyone scurrying off safely into the woods. At that point, it seems that their own mortality isn’t at the forefront of their minds.

With Ian’s unexplained death, things change, but not in some dramatic story arc. Morbid curiosity haunts the melancholy-looking Eric, who seems to be an enigma even to himself. His friend Tristan (Thomas Cruz) casually mentions taking his own life while the two are having a lazy day in a rowboat, and later again on the phone, to which Eric  responds with aggression. He acts like someone who’s been robbed of those years when a kid’s mind is supposed to be happily unencumbered with such bleak notions, as he tries to make sense of it all, and grows increasingly angry in the process.

“Hide Your Smiling Faces” is nothing if not atmospheric. Robert Donne’s eerie score is reminiscent of the opening sequence in “The Shining”, particularly in a scene when the brothers are gliding down a narrow, serpentine road on a bicycle. It’s a beautiful looking film as well, taking full advantage of its remote wooded location, and cinematographer Nicholas Bentgen gives us a sense of the vastness and obscurity of nature. Dialogue is sparse, and most of the action will take place in the audience’s head, as we’re left to decipher the symbolism imbedded in the brothers’ discoveries; we spend a lot of time on the edge of our seat waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, giving us plenty of time to contemplate such things. Animals both wild and domestic play a big role in the message that Carbone seems to be trying to convey about karma, and a moment late in the film suggests that Eric has either accepted the fragility of life or has overcome the fear of death.  “Hide Your Smiling Faces” works best if approached like a meditation on your own childhood, and if you can fill in the blanks, you might end up with something profound. Otherwise, you might just feel like you watched some kids wandering around in the woods for 80 minutes.

“Hide Your Smiling Faces” is available on VOD and iTunes on March 25th, and will be in select theaters Friday, March 28th.

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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