London Film Review: ‘Hide Your Smiling Faces’

Daniel Patrick Carbone's hushed but assured debut feature is a richly lensed mood piece about two brothers haunted by the strange passing of a friend.


Ryan Jones, Nathan Varnson, Colm O'Leary, Thomas Cruz, Christina Starbuck, Chris Kies, Andrew Chamberlain, Ivan Tomic, Clark Middleton, Annaliese Jorgensen-Lockhart, Chris Auer, William Chamberlain, Vielka Cruz, Colin Grimm, Courtney Hanks, David Hojnowski, Tommy Hooker, Connor McHugh, Christian Silva, Holly Taylor.

American independent cinema hasn’t wanted recently for sun-baked meditations on male adolescent angst in scenic rural surroundings. Still, while Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ “The Kings of Summer” may boast more audience appeal, Daniel Patrick Carbone’s hushed but assured debut feature, outdoes them both for elegance and insight. Narratively oblique yet emotionally acute, this richly lensed mood piece about two brothers plunged into a state of nascent death anxiety by the strange passing of a friend has already received significant exposure on the festival circuit, though its low-key solemnity seemingly remains a challenge to distributors. VOD may be the best route to ensure that “Faces” isn’t hidden for too long.

Carbone opens his film on the arrestingly unpleasant image of a snake digesting a half-swallowed fish, setting the tone for the disquieting, quasi-dreamlike proceedings. It may also unwittingly put audiences in mind of reptile-related climaxes in Nichols’ and Vogt-Roberts’ films, though it’s thankfully the serpent’s only appearance. Throughout the film, however, Carbone employs violent or threatening animal imagery to evoke — not always subtly — its young protagonists’ growing fixation on mortality and natural decay.

Nine-year-old Tommy (Ryan Jones) and his 14-year-old brother Eric (Nathan Varnson) have evidently only recently moved to the heavily wooded New Jersey town where events unfold over the course of one hazy, largely unsupervised summer. The relative newness of the friendships they’ve formed may explain why both boys seem more stunned than grief-stricken when Tommy’s playmate Ian (Ivan Tomic), an unruly kid with a possibly abusive father (Colm O’Leary), is found dead on the riverbank.

The circumstances of his death are never explained to the audience — nor, apparently, to the boys, whose imaginations are thus allowed to roam into unmanageably dark territory. Suicide crosses their minds, though Ian’s father is perceived as culpable in any event. A mostly unspoken war of attrition ensues between the brothers and the gruffly grieving adult; left to their own devices, meanwhile, the boys engage in their own latently violent psychological games. (The recurring appearance of a gun in the narrative is an unnecessarily literal contrivance.)

Assisted by the superb performances of his two young, refreshingly unaffected leads, Carbone has a profound understanding of the close but conflicted bond that exists between brothers on either side of the puberty divide. Surly, sporty Eric plays both protector and bully to the more sensitive Tommy — sometimes simultaneously, as in a tough-love swimming lesson spiked with the threat of drowning.

Women are, as yet, hardly a presence in their world: Their concerned but frustrated mother is scarcely seen, while one of the film’s eeriest, loveliest scenes (reminiscent of a Miranda July vignette) finds Tommy practicing his kissing technique with another male friend and a separating sheet of cellophane. For much of the film, direct human contact is something to be resisted, even feared; toward the end, Carbone lingers on a shot of fleeting skin-on-skin touch as if it were positively redemptive.

Shot on location in the Garden State, upstate New York and Pennsylvania, “Faces” is notably polished for a modest, Kickstarter-fed production. The blunted colors and soft interplay of sunlight and shadow in Nick Bentgen’s serene cinematography seems somewhat influenced by the work of Jody Lee Lipes (“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” TV’s “Girls”), who is thanked in the closing credits. Robert Donne’s quivery, lightly electro-brushed score is sparely applied, often blending seamlessly into the whispering sounds of summer.

Popular on Variety

London Film Review: 'Hide Your Smiling Faces'

Reviewed at London Film Festival (First Feature competition), Oct. 20, 2013. (Also in Berlin Film Festival — Generation; Tribeca Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 80 MIN.


A Flies Collective production. (International sales: Wide Management, Paris.) Produced by Matthew Petock, Zachary Shedd, Daniel Patrick Carbone, Jordan Bailey-Hoover.


Directed, written, edited by Daniel Patrick Carbone. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Nick Bentgen; music, Robert Donne; production designer, Charlotte Royer; sound, Peter Townsend; re-recording mixer, Chris Foster; assistant director, Zachary Shedd.


Ryan Jones, Nathan Varnson, Colm O'Leary, Thomas Cruz, Christina Starbuck, Chris Kies, Andrew Chamberlain, Ivan Tomic, Clark Middleton, Annaliese Jorgensen-Lockhart, Chris Auer, William Chamberlain, Vielka Cruz, Colin Grimm, Courtney Hanks, David Hojnowski, Tommy Hooker, Connor McHugh, Christian Silva, Holly Taylor.

More Film

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content