It’s impossible to avoid allusions to the numerous foregoers to Hide Your Smiling Faces, an American indie about a group of boys who find a dead body by a River’s Edge, face down in the Mud, only to realise that it’s the body of their friend. Stand By Me.
There’s nothing new about this new drama, which quickly runs out of coming-of-age stories to repeat and then just has to repeat itself. It’s written, directed and edited by Daniel Patrick Carbone, which sounds impressive until you realise that there was no writing or editing involved. In terms of direction, Carbone is content to offer dry symbolism and obvious foreshadowing shot by boring shot, with the kind of laziness usually reserved for mainstream Hollywood cinema.
We’ve seen plenty of interesting movies composed of gloomy landscapes and dead animals, but they also told stories and featured the occasional good character. The 1986 cult classic River’s Edge, for instance, starred Dennis Hopper as a paranoid junkie in love with a sex doll. Hide Your Smiling Faces is populated by indistinguishable children, whose names no one will remember after the film, or during it for that matter. None of them exhibit so much as a memory of a ghost of a whisper of a personality, instead simply staring in silence with a blankness that Carbone presumably mistakes for emotional depth.
The two leads are naturalistically played by Ryan Jones and Nathan Varnson, but they’re so badly written as to totally obliterate any semblance of reality. All they talk about is death and killing themselves, as though Carbone not only doesn’t know how children speak, but isn’t even sure what one is. You just want to show these kids YouTube or Star Wars, anything to make them cheer up and shut up. By the end you’re actually willing them to commit suicide, just so that something happens.
This flat and unoriginal indie has a whopping 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, showing just how nauseatingly critics will lap up anything vaguely arthouse. But slowness and aimlessness are not automatically profound traits in such a derivative and emotionally detached piece of work, whose blatant lack of plot and characterisation make this more like Hide Your Smelling Faeces.