Hide Your Smiling Faces
Runs Fri., April 4–Thurs., April 10 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 81 minutes.
In his first feature, writer/director Daniel Patrick Carbone follows a motley group of boys, 9-ish to teenaged, as they tromp through the woods, swim in a pond, explore an old railway viaduct, ride bikes, and wrestle in the grass. Not much is said during these endless summer days, and the lovely widescreen scenes could almost pass for Terrence Malick until the plot kicks in. One of the younger kids has a compulsion, the way some boys do, to borrow and show off his father’s handgun. It gets passed around, pointed (none check to see if it’s loaded), and becomes the object of some roughhousing.
Naturally we expect the worst, but Carbone follows a very meandering path through his forest. Teenaged Eric (Nathan Varnson) is usually tailed by his timid little brother Tommy (Ryan Jones), who’s afraid of heights, afraid of the water, and maybe hoping that Eric’s muscled confidence will rub off on him. Eric naturally teases his kid brother, but he’s also protective; they seem closer to each other than to their parents. (Only one adult figures prominently in the film.) How should these siblings respond to death? The film is full of it, beginning with the very first shot, yet it’s mostly animals who meet their demise. Tommy’s at the age where poking dead birds and dogs with a stick is natural and normal. Eric’s past that and impatient with the morbid natterings of his friend Tristan (Thomas Cruz). Why would anyone want to die? To the strappingly physical Eric, that’s crazy talk.
In this somber never-never land without cell phones or videogames, Carbone certainly creates a mood, but it’s the atmosphere of a terrarium. The suspense goes nowhere; and the death of a child becomes mere contrivance for much angsty moping. The film never achieves any mortal profundity, only pokes it with a stick.