Hide Your Smiling Faces
Daniel Patrick Carbone's distinctive coming-of-ager boasts a powerful atmosphere
At first glance, writer-director Daniel Patrick Carbone's first feature appears to be treading similar ground to recent independent coming-of-age movies, such as Jeff Nichols' Mud or Jordan Vogt-Roberts' The Kings Of Summer, both of which featured young protagonists roaming wild and life lessons learnt in largely adult-free environments. However, Carbone is less interested in delivering a standard coming-of-age narrative than he is in cultivating a powerful atmosphere, suffused with tragedy.
Set in an unnamed rural Northeast community, the film stars Ryan Jones as nine-year-old Tommy, who spends his days exploring dilapidated buildings along the riverbank with his two friends Ian (Ivan Tomic) and Blake (Andrew M Chamberlain).
Occasionally Tommy hangs out with his older brother Eric (Nathan Varnson), whose main pastime seems to be free-for-all wrestling matches. When Eric discovers Ian's body at the bottom of a disused railway viaduct, it isn't clear whether the young boy jumped, fell or was pushed, but both Eric and Tommy suspect that Ian's alcoholic father (Colm O'Leary) had something to do with it.
Carbone opts for a series of oblique, frequently dialogue-free scenes, heightened by some powerfully dream-like imagery, including the opening shot of a snake struggling to swallow a fish. He's aided by a pair of strikingly naturalistic performances from newcomers Jones and Varnson, both of whom expertly convey their unspoken reactions to their friend's death.
That said, it's not all doom and gloom and Hide Your Smiling Faces also includes a number of sequences that showcase the pleasures of the genre, most notably a scene where Eric teaches a screaming Tommy to swim by dropping him in the water, and one where Tommy and Blake practise their kissing technique on each other using a piece of cellophane.
Moments of more traditional light relief aside, Carbone distinguishes himself from the pack with a debut that's for the most part brooding and spare.
Selected release from Fri 1 Aug.