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FIOFF ’15 Submissions to Die For: A.J. Briones’ “THE SMILING MAN”

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Welcome to SUBMISSIONS TO DIE FOR, the latest column focusing on highlights among the FANGORIA International Online Film Festival Submissions. While being featured on this column does not guarantee selection in the FANGORIA International Online Film Festival, SUBMISSIONS TO DIE FOR features some scare fare worth keeping an eye on…

With so many horror filmmakers striving to make an impression nowadays, the question remains: what makes an effective horror short? Is it the ability to subvert expectations and offer some different? Is it a filmmaker taking familiar tropes in the genre and turning it on its head? Or is it just being really damn scary? If it’s the latter, then there are few horror shorts that will make viewers reconsider turning off their lights at night more than A.J. Briones’ bite-sized chiller THE SMILING MAN.

While the film barely runs over 7 minutes long, THE SMILING MAN is an exercise in lean yet undeniably terrifying horror, packing a punch around every turn. While establishing an all-around feeling of unease at its very beginning, THE SMILING MAN wastes no time getting into the scary material, and wastes even less time going from scary to outright spine-tingling. And by the time we get a full-glimpse of the titular character, Briones decides not to let the audience off that easy, allowing the disturbing situation behind the climax to leave fans unnerved, to say the least.

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Aside from just being crafted incredibly well, THE SMILING MAN does a brilliant job navigating the different avenues of fear. Whether it’s the creepy sudden appearance of balloons, the movement of claw-like fingers around a corner or one of the absolutely best constructed jump scares this writer has ever seen, Briones knows what scares people and refrains from being exploitative about said scares until the very last act. And beyond that, THE SMILING MAN is ambitious enough to go into dark places but simplistic enough to pace itself to make the most of its runtime and featured antagonist.

Above all else, THE SMILING MAN makes for a superb calling card for director A.J. Briones, whose confident direction anchors the film in eerie, minimalist horror. While the film also sports excellent cinematography from David Hokechek, strong performances from Strange Dave and a surprisingly believable Abbi Chally, and effective FX make-up from Melanie Leandro, Briones’ vision is what drives THE SMILING MAN from creepy to unforgettably creepy. This writer predicts that, if this film gets in front of the right eyes, Briones could have a strong career ahead of him in the genre, and it would be great to see if Briones’ skills as a short form fright filmmaker would translate onto a televised medium in something like AMERICAN HORROR STORY or SALEM.

For more information on the FANGORIA International Online Film Festival, you can visit the fest’s official website HERE.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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