Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Silver Eye Pictures and Director, Justin Wiggins for allowing me early access to an online screener of his homegrown 16-minute Horror/Thriller short, “The Sardonic Smile”. The Sardonic Smile focuses on a group of four friends staying at a remote cabin by a series of popular hiking trails where puzzling occurrences have been happening. After Tim’s (played by Mark Healy) brief interaction with a young female hiker (Nikki Souvertjis), the boys each end up calling to mind their experiences with a smiling man they encountered while out on the trails. The film also stars John Cooper, Abe Kortekaas, Theon Ajax, and Chad McMartin.
I’ve been privileged enough of late to be exposed to some of the local shorts that are being made by some very talented individuals – The Sardonic Smile being one such effort. With his first script, Writer/Producer Henry Pomeroy presents with a creepy little template that is carried out wonderfully by Justin Wiggins. It’s great to see locals I’m familiar with in Catalina Moller and Markus Strack teaming up to provide high production value cinematography. The pair throw in a few important establishing shots (including some brief drone footage) and gentle camera movements, such as closing in on Tim at the table as the drama among the group intensifies. That and Strack’s use of glidecam (at least I think it was) makes for much smoother active movement than I’m used to seeing in indie films. Composer, Kurt Tomlison storms into the mix with his shrill theme that accompanies the title credit. The bulk of the score is aptly frenetic but there’s also an eerie keys and strings motif as nightfall approaches. The Sardonic Smile marks the first credit for a lot of these actors so I was surprised overall by the standard of performance. Mark and Nikki handle their interactions really naturally, further aided by some free-flowing writing. As for the remainder, Cooper’s timing is pretty good, Kortekaas brings a touch of humor, and Ajax is more on the descriptive side. In addition, the latter is given one of the best scenes in the film where he’s being terrorized in a tent in such a way that visually homages the likes of “Nightmare On Elm St”. Not to mention, said sequence is beautifully backlit and laced with a nice mist.
If I had any criticisms, it’s that the odd line and reaction felt a bit scripted (par for the course with inexperienced actors though), most notably with Ajax while he’s recounting his experience and attempting to act scared. I didn’t really buy that he was actually terrified by the apparitions threatening him from outside the tent. I noticed that Healy had a line with bad phrasing as well, something about “management wanting people to be more safe” (I may be paraphrasing there), even my auto-correct as I’m typing this is wanting to alter “more safe” into “safer”.
All in all, The Sardonic Smile is a great slice of local Horror produced by a team of pretty talented people. The script is fun, the direction is good, and most importantly the production value is high. The cinematography catches the eye, the score is fiery, and the performances are quite easy to watch. Wiggins hits his mark with the intended atmosphere and the closing shot is certainly a memorable one. Barring a couple of little dialogue hiccups and the odd waver in actors staying present, there are only good things to be said about The Sardonic Smile and I look forward to its official release and seeing what Silver Eye Pictures does next. Stay tuned for screening dates next year for this one!
The Sardonic Smile – 8/10