Smiling Man, The


Go With a Smile

Main Cast: Abbi Chally, Strange Dave

Director: A.J. Briones

As someone who loves horror movies but doesn’t have a lot of time to watch all the ones I want to watch, sometimes you turn to a horror short for that quick fix.  And there’s no better place to turn than the Alter YouTube channel.  However, even before I discovered Alter—thanks to one of the many horror author newsletters I subscribe to—I had seen The Smiling Man.

The Smiling Man is from 2015, written and directed by special effects supervisor A. J. Briones (sequence supervisor on AVATAR: The Way of Water) from a story by another special effects supervisor, Tefft Smith (visualization artist for Stranger Things) and starring Abbi Chally (her first and only credit) and Strange Dave (stunt performer on THE VATICAN TAPES).

The plot, what plot there is, is very simple.  The Little Girl is home alone watching television upstairs when she hears a noise in the hall.  She’s 6, and hasn’t had a lifetime of horror movie warnings telling her NOT to check out the strange noise in the dark hall, so she checks it out and finds a red balloon waiting for her in the hallway.  Weighing the balloon down is a small bag of doll parts.

Well, this little girl has never read IT, so the red balloon doesn’t automatically set off alarms in her head.  Then she finds another one down the stairs, on the landing.  This time it’s a blue balloon, again weighed down by a small bag of doll parts.

The little girl follows the trail further down where she finds a third balloon, black this time, more doll parts.  Then she sees the kitchen and the bags of dropped and overturned groceries.  And something peeking out from behind the cabinet.

What she finds is something I’m not going to spoil here, but the title alone should tell you.  However, there’s no way I’m describing or giving any details except to say Strange Dave, man … holy crap, this was perfect casting because this guy’s performance seals the deal on The Smiling Man being one of the best horror shorts I’ve ever seen.  In fact, I had already seen this one maybe 6 times over the years BEFORE I decided to review it here; I just kept coming back to it whenever I needed a quick dose of top-notch horror.

And Briones, the brave soul, goes against standard horror movie conventions by staging his big scene in a bright, well-lit kitchen so you see EVERYTHING.  Or do you?  Through some excellent camera angles and brilliant contortions from The Smiling Man, what you see of the “monster” is minimal at best, but so engaging you don’t realize until afterward, upon further reflection, that you really didn’t see much at all.  But the way the film is shot and acted, it FEELS much bigger, much more threatening.

I feel it ended a little abruptly without a real payoff and I would have LOVED another minute or two just to get some proper closure on the scenario, but then the ending I imagine is probably worse than any they could have written and filmed, and maybe that’s the point.

The Smiling Man runs 6 minutes and 21 seconds and in that short span of time, this film shows you what a horror movie is supposed to be, and does everything a horror movie is supposed to do.  I’ve been watching horror movies, literally, my entire life, and it takes a lot to make me jump, but this one does it, every time.  The Smiling Man—and in fact, the entire ALTER channel—is highly recommended. 

You can see The Smiling Man on YouTube for free.

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