AJ Briones’s The Smiling Man (2015)

You absolutely have to watch the film before you read anything about it. Not because it would spoil this short movie, but because you need to watch it as soon as possible. Yes, it is that good. As someone who sadly has not had an opportunity to visit any of the multiple (horror) film festivals, I am always thankful when artists/studios release their work online for all of us to watch and appreciate.

Today, The Smiling Man has changed my day for the better. Actually, I will not be able to let it go from my mind for a while. I know this because by now I have become familiar with the way my mind and body react to good horror; I can recognize the reaction and the emotions.

(SPOILERS IN THE PARAGRAPHS BELOW)

I have just seen this movie, so let’s think about this as a first response post. The audience follows the little girl as she is experiencing something most of us would never want to: her home was invaded and (probably) her mother murdered. One of the many clichés of the horror genre are characters who do not run away when strange things start happening,; their curiosity makes them proceed, and usually this is the way a lot of characters die. Audiences have been making fun of such characters, asking why these characters don’t run when it’s obvious such a strange thing would freak anyone out in real life. It seems easier to understand these characters if they are children, or in this case, a little girl. Children are naive, they trust strangers, and have not had the horrible experiences of an adult life; they have not read about people getting murdered and so on. But don’t adult characters become like children in horror movies? Fear paired with curiosity and wonder (“this is too strange to be true!”) might in some cases be a coping mechanism in the face of horrors to come.

One of the most difficult things for horror creators is the design of the monster. The monster has to be scary before and after it’s identity is revealed. A lot of movie monsters fail to be scary after they can be seen, somehow, the magic is lost. Not the Smiling man. His intense look that seems to be directed at the audience and the girl, but somehow never seems to find the camera, frantically moving around the focus point, gave me serious creeps.

Personally, when I am interpreting a movie, sometimes I am inclined to look at what is not shown and what is unknown about the film or the book. If you don’t like this type of analysis, you might not like the following part, but I think these questions are not so out of place. The inability to answer these questions with certainty adds to the feeling of horror. My questions are powered by the title of the film itself. Why the Smiling man? Right now, I can think of three possibilities:

1. He is a madman, perhaps a supernatural entity, who killed this woman without recognizing the murder as a despicable act. The whole thing is a performance: as a clown he murders and then entertains.

2. He has not killed the woman, someone else did, but he is there to cheer the girl up.

3. ? This might seem far fetched, but if he killed the woman, was it because she did not have a good relationship with the girl, and the Smiling man wanted to cheer the girl up?

(or maybe there is an interpretation that is a combination of some of these proposals?)

The probability of these scenarios goes from the most probable (1) to very speculative (3). However, the planting of the balloons is similar to a treasure hunt: finding little clues, which will lead you to the treasure. The balloons are different colors, and the little bags contain body parts, which we later realize represent the woman in the plastic bag. Thus, the Smiling man was not simply interrupted mid murder. He wanted the girl to experience fun. Was the girl sad in the first place, then? And why would seeing the dead woman’s body cheer her up? This is what lead me to the scenario number three.

Did you like the movie? What did you think of the balloon colors? So far I can only see those colors being represented on the girl (pink top, blue jeans) and the Smiling man (black). Alternatively, black could refer to something bad, blood is read, but what about the blue? Maybe the red one represents the woman, blue one the girl, and the black one the Smiling man? The contents of the third bag included a head of a little doll, does this mean the girl will also end up being murdered? Is this a murder, murder, suicide scenario?

First Impressions Saturday: Classic Tales of the Macabre

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During my third day in Graz I discovered a bookstore with a section of books in English. My intentions were not dishonest, I really did not intend to buy anything, I merely wanted to know where I could buy in Graz a book in English if I get the craving. Oh was I wrong. Buchhandlung Moser is located next to Jakominiplatz in the centre of the city. In the next two days I purchased Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene (2006 edition) and The Greatest Show on Earth (2010 edition), The Grand Design (2011 edition) by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow and Classic Tales of the Macabre (2011).

I am familiar with most authors in the book and recognized some of the short stories, however, I had not read a single one of them.

Yesterday night I had a chance to read two of them: the famous “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Damned Thing” by W.W. Jacobs. The stories can be found in various editions and although I enjoyed them, especially “The Yellow Wallpaper” this is not the reason why I decided to include this volume in The First Impression Saturdays. It is the physical beauty of this edition that I think should be of interest to any macabre and horror fiction enthusiast.

The front cover presents a painting by Arnold Böcklin, The Self Portrait (1872) and the back cover features an engraving by Cornelius Huyberts of one of Frederick Ruysch’s anatomical dioramas. 20160409_090915

The protective cover protects a red hardcover with the name of the collection spelled out in gold on the side of the book (and featuring the classic bookmark!):

As if this was not already enough, the edges are gold and have a distinctive glare:

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Collector’s Library has published other collections which all have the golden lettering and edges and have roughly the same design: http://www.collectors-library.com/

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The collection also contains an introduction by David Stuart Davies, an author of both fiction and non fiction books, and a short biography of all writers included in the volume.

Classic Tales of the Macabre is a good introduction to the tales of the macabre for readers who are unfamiliar with the genre. The experienced readers who might already possess some of these stories  in other collections, will be impressed by the design and its details.

We’re Still Here (2015): First Impressions

we-are-still-here-posterFIRST IMPRESSIONS RATING:9/10

This “First Impressions” review contains no spoilers.

After my twitter feed alerted me to this movie I was surprised to find out there was a big difference between audience (51%) and critics (95%) ratings on the Rotten Tomatoes website. After reading some other reviews I decided I definitely needed to see the movie.

An older couple moves into a haunted house after their son’s death. This scenario is not sound particularly original. The movie starts slowly, but the tempo is not dragging and I did not find myself wishing it would go any faster. I enjoy slower introductions because it makes you almost forget that there is any danger or threat at all.

However, one of the jumpscares happens early in the movie and it quickly reminds you that you are watching a horror movie. This particular jumpscare is not cheesy and I loved the timing of all jumpscares which is crucial and can make or break a movie. I was even tempted to turn the movie off as it was late and I was watching it in complete darkness. I opted for turning the lights on and continued watching the movie. After the monsters are revealed they are still scary although in a different way. You can see them quite well and for longer periods of time but what they still maintain the uncanny vibe because their motivation and boundaries are unknown. What will they do and won’t do? 

While the first part of the movie introduces the family, the second part established the role of the villagers and their friends in the story. I like that almost all characters are adults, not teenagers. This gives the movie a different vibe than It Follows (2015), which shares some characteristics with this movie but I will write about it in my detailed review which will include spoilers. The performances were good but I would also like to get more into it after I will have seen the movie for the second time.

Situating the story in a little town with inhabitants who are not your friends from day one adds to the overal feeling of separation that is much like that experienced in Rosemary’s Baby (1968) or even Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) to supply some examples that come to my mind right now. The villagers are a diverse group when it comes to their participation in a witchhunt-like activities which makes them less and more threatening at the same time because there is a contrast between them, too. 

“That house probably has more demons than the Book of Revelations.”

 

Altough some information about the curse is released, some facts remain unexplained which I appreciated. I am not a fan of movies which explain everything. I like to  remain in the darkness at least partially.

The gore was more than acceptable, make up artists did a good job and I enjoyed the bloody fireworks and the sound of blood escaping the human body was strangely soothing and disturbing at the same time. I am a sucker for the uncanny and everything even remotely related to body horror. 

We’re Still Here was a great watching experience and I cannot wait to watch it again and again. I was not bored and was excited about the story. The ending was mostly satisfying but I will definitely want to write more about it later as I am not sure if I can write about it now without revealing too much. I was not disappointed though. One of the questions that I will want to ask myself is if this movie is about trauma of losing a loved one, as Babadook (2014), and how well it deals with the theme.

It is currently 1:44am and I think this is just enough for a first impression review. Please leave a comment! 🙂

STAY TUNED FOR MY DETAILED REVIEW & ANALYSIS

PRO TIP: Watch the credits that supply you with more  information and one extra scene.

The movie on Rotten Tomatoes