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Originally published Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 3:09 PM

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‘Hide Your Smiling Faces’: Boys confront a mysterious death

A three-star movie review of “Hide Your Smiling Faces,” a moody, engrossing coming-of-age drama about two brothers who discover a friend’s body in the woods.


Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Hide Your Smiling Faces,’ with Nathan Varnson, Ryan Jones. Written and directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone. 81 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains profanity, violence, gun threats and vandalism). Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

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Music tends to sentimentalize coming-of-age movies, even those that are as expertly constructed as “Summer of 42” and “Stand by Me.” But it doesn’t have to be that way.

First-time New Jersey filmmaker Daniel Patrick Carbone makes an especially spare use of music in the moody, engrossing “Hide Your Smiling Faces,” the story of two brothers who reluctantly, sometimes destructively, deal with the finality and mystery of death.

There’s a startling stillness about the film, especially the opening scenes, that becomes a character in itself and helps to avoid softness. The sounds of insects and dripping water, mixed with electronic hums, sometimes dominate the nonverbal scenes.

Nine-year-old Tommy (Ryan Jones) and his older brother, Eric (Nathan Varnson), are sad but mostly baffled when they’re confronted with the corpse of Ian, Tommy’s playmate. Did the boy jump from a bridge or did he accidentally fall? What would it be like to kill yourself?

The script, based on Carbone’s college experience with a friend whose death was similarly inexplicable, offers no easy resolution.

“Hide Your Smiling Faces” could just as easily be called “Kings of Summer: The Dark Side,” because of the way it uses the woodsy Northeast to suggest an Eden-like getaway for teenage boys. The movie opens with the image of a snake swallowing its prey.

Later on, a seemingly random act of vandalism is disturbing because it appears to come out of nowhere. A wrestling match leads to gun threats and despair. Violence is always near, but so are camaraderie and the possibility of redemption.

The clarity of Nick Bentgen’s cinematography is particularly striking in a film that makes the most of its low budget. And Jones and Varnson give performances that always feel authentic.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com



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