The Smiling Man (Review)




First off I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, A.J Briones for allowing me access to an online screener of his 7 minute Horror short, “The Smiling Man”. I’ve made contact with a lot of different filmmakers through my interest in these types of short films. AJ was a contact I found through Gabriel Olson, a mutual contact and filmmaker who directed “The Bridge Partner” *see review * The Smiling Man is about a little girl (played by Abbi Chally) who while home alone, comes face to face with a malevolent stranger (Strange Dave). The film also stars Mellissa Chally and The Smiling Man whose voiced by Richard Dorton. I was surprised when I saw the long list of credits to Briones name. Turns out he works as a visual effects artist and previsualization supervisor. His list of credits include “47 Ronin” another film I reviewed, plus “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” and “Tomorrowland” just to name a few. It’s rare I get the opportunity to review a film made by someone who specializes in a completely different department.



I initially caught a brief snippet of the trailer for this one and thought the premise really looked like it suited the short medium. Although it’s not necessarily original, it’s very well conceived and an entertaining seven minutes all the same. The creepy use of balloons to lure the little girl into a false sense of security made for quite a nice build up. There were a couple of nice jump scares that were generated through sound effects and score, rather than just conveniently placed where the audience might have dropped their guard. The camera movement was the most impressive facet of The Smiling Man. AJ applied some nice simplistic framing, as well as throwing in some gentle tracking shots to help convey the tension filled situation the little girl finds herself in. There’s one aerial shot used right before the main unveiling that took something away from the conclusion though. The orchestral and piano based score was reminiscent of some of Shyamalan’s work (“Signs” and “The Sixth Sense”), the sound effects were also effectively arranged. Young Abbi does a fine job in the lead role but it’s Dave as TSM that steals the show. The theatrics he displays for the characters look and movement is what helps sell the experience.



Even though The Smiling Man is an unsettling figure, the longer the camera stays glued to his face the more the viewer gets used to the look and feel. Though saying that, the red-faced demon from “Insidious” never became less frightening the more often you saw him, in fact it was probably the opposite (a true testament to great writing and design). The one plot point that took me out of the film, as much as one can be with such a short running time was the lack of reaction from the little girl. Are we led to believe she supposed to be the toughest, most care free child not phased by anything. I find it hard to believe she wouldn’t scream or react hysterically to such a hideous figure. I understand with AJ’s script it probably doesn’t work the same if she over reacts and runs away but regardless it’s a bit of a stretch. My only technical complaints are that I would’ve liked to have seen the film on a larger aspect ratio (but it’s a screener so you have to keep that in mind), and the entire audio channel could’ve been lifted so I didn’t have to pump the volume up so much.


The Smiling Man was a pretty eerie and enjoyable short. It’s great to be constantly watching and reviewing these really effective shorts being made by some truly talented people. AJ is new to this side of the film making process but you wouldn’t know it. Here he handles his technical aspects proficiently but knows a thing or two about writing as well. I particularly enjoyed the approach to the end reveal, as well as the chilling sound effects and suspenseful score he implemented. A more plausible reaction from our lead child was the one thing I needed to immerse myself entirely in what was otherwise a great little story. I look forward to seeing this again down the track, hopefully on a bigger scale with a slightly improved audio level. If you guys like this style of slow-burn horror, I definitely recommend checking out The Smiling Man when it becomes available. Great work AJ and I look forward to hopefully checking out your film “Carolina Parakeet” at some point!

My rating for “The Smiling Man” is 8/10