Smiling Woman Short Film Review

★★★

Directed by: #AlexMagaña

Written by: #AlexMagaña

Starring: #ArielFullinwider #MerlyndaSol

Film Review by: Alfie Kaye



While it’s slightly on the nose, the title of the short, Smiling Woman, does best accurately describe its plot: a woman sat alone at a bus stop is haunted by a woman whose (overtly) creepy smile sends her on a path to despair.

By staring directly at the surface of the film, you may see a generic horror short; underneath the surface, however, shows a passionate understanding of horror resulting in an ambitious project. There is a concerted effort to follow the textbooks of David Lynch and Sam Raimi in regards to horror filmmaking - which is perhaps the most ambitious thing about the film when you consider its run time.

While the film does part-rely on jump scares, they are still choreographed well. What’s more impressive, though, is the admirable effort to build tension through the use of camera manipulation, and to use a surrealistic character to encourage a psychologically-haunting experience. Impressive further is its crescendo-like build of tension throughout the film, culminating in a frightening final frame; the Smiling Woman literally creeps up to you.

I’m not sure the film can be described as a philosophical or allegorical exploration into a certain theme, but in a film with a run-time as short as this, this is not a problem. In fact, by not over-saturating the film, its primary objective of scaring the viewer becomes easier, and that comes across.

The aptly named Jonathan Romero’s sound mix combines the scratchy, high-pitched strings used by Bernard Herrmann’s in Psycho with the strange and brash honking, echoey effect that bolts you upright to attention in the opening to The Shining, and while this is a commendable attempt to utilise sound we associate with classic horror, Smiling Woman would have benefited by understanding the importance of silence in a bid to scare its viewer; seldom does the sound ease off, and the benefits of doing this are highlighted by a heart-jumping final frame.

Not a great deal can be said for the screenplay as the dialogue is minimal, however, lead actresses Ariel Fullinwider (The Girl) and Merlynda Sol (Smiling Woman) do a fine job of portraying anxiety and eeriness, respectively, - for large parts, relying on facial expressions and body language. The sparse use of special effects is also used precisely and purposefully.

This is a very fine effort in executing an uneasy, horror short.

It would be misleading to suggest you will see anything unique here, but for the large part, director Alex Magaña understands and appreciates horror convention and utilises them successfully, and also manipulates the camera well, throughout.