A little girl home alone finds herself face-to-face with pure evil entices the synopsis from the little description box. I wasn’t expecting anything in particular, especially since I had previously watched a batch of horror shorts that nearly put me to sleep. I am always on the lookout for lists and recommendations for original compositions, and my penchant for horror puts anything even remotely considered “creepy” on the top of my priorities so of course I checked off another list of horror related videos that you might find on Youtube, supposedly terrifying and even better than your regular cinematic experiences.
My interest piqued, I went ahead and lined the videos tab after tab for a mini-marathon, so fitting for a night drenched in the October rain. However, I’d like to skip to the conclusion by saying that the best thing about these videos was their length as I was frequently teetering on the verge of poking my own eyes out. I wouldn’t want the same happening to you by describing what would bring about an unbearable feeling of boredom, suffocating your chest. I mean, that might actually be the truly horrifying experience you were probably looking for.
“She slowly approaches and…. We see the creature. We see it. AND IT’S A MAN.”
However, one in particular caught my attention, through the dredge of Grudge ghosts, cheap jumpscares and unnecessary loud noises. The Smiling Man, a short that was selected among others for the 2016 SXSW Film Festival starts off as something not completely out of the ordinary in the horror genre: a little girl who is apparently home alone is lead downstairs by a trail of shiny ballons. We hear giggles and we see shadows as we approach the kitchen area alongside the little girl, as curious as she is of the entity behind the counter. She turns on the light and the kitchen is silent, so she draws nearer and nearer… Black nails tap the side of the counter and we brace ourselves for another potential ear piercing noise and no gratification. She slowly approaches and…. We see the creature. We see it. AND IT’S A MAN. An actual actor, coated in tribal like body paint, contorted in his madness and cunning as he begins toying with the girl, to a purpose which I will not disclose here.
The short dares to get intimate with the creature, to let us observe his behaviour and actually question his intentions. Its focus is on the monster and his habits, not on the victim, not on CGI and creepy lighting which you can only arrange in so many ways. In this plethora of discount copies of Asian horror and irritating shaky cam, The Smiling Man has beautiful and up-close shots of the creature, nothing is obscured, his twisted body is there to see in the stark kitchen lights. Only his eyes are human, which makes it all the more terrifying as we look for a point of focus that can deter from his flaking skin and sharpened teeth. We are forced to look at the evil being, to feel uncomfortable and to crawl in our skin.
The short clearly confirms the folk wisdom that says there can be a gem in a pile of shit if you look hard enough. Still, it pains me to spend increasingly more time up to my elbows in the aforementioned pile to find something that is not a pool of recycled cliches. And I find it even more painful to realise that cinema today is adopting the same strategy in the horror genre. Franchises that needed to end a century ago, ideas that are run down to the ground from their repeated use, reliance on jumpscares that grow stale quickly. Horror can be intelligent, horror can be artsy and beautiful, horror can be more that gore and shocking just for the sake of being shocking. Horror is so subjective, that should be a perfect opportunity to experiment and play with fears, with the absurd, with taboos.
Thank you A. J. Briones and your incredible crew for this short but beautiful piece. I was pleasantly surprised to see the website for the movie and notice the many awards it has received and the recognition it deserves. I wish you all the best and know you have inspired me as well. I salute you.
Info: Written/Directed/Edited by A.J. Briones / Starring: Abbi Chally, Strange Dave, Melissa Chally / Producers: Tefft Smith II, Nathan Hopkins, A.J. Briones / Cinematography: David Holechek / Composer: Vivien Villani / Supervising Sound Editor/Re-Recording Mixer: Jamey Scott
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