Hide Your Smiling Faces is an eerily effective tale of lost youth – lost in the picturesque wilderness where the youngsters grow up, lost in the directions they are failing to find for their teenage lives. They are all boys, as if in this world female chromosomes die young or age instantly into adulthood. Think of Boyhood; then relocate its epic rite of passage to an unnamed corner of the American northeast and a distilled moment of growth and change.
The youngsters include two brothers (Ryan Jones, Nathan Varnson) wrestling with the wrong kind of growing up: notions of machismo transmitted by peers and elders. They are haunted too by the taint of death in nature, human and rural. Animals die; pets disappear; a boy’s body is found fallen from a bridge.
We’re close to Cold Comfort Backwoods or the preciously wrought miserabilism of Winter’s Bone. But there’s a spell to this halting dialogue, full of packed silences. And that young kids can be spellbound themselves, by mortality and death, we remember from Stand by Me. Robert Donne’s part-electronic score dials up the story’s foreboding with passages of a sustained, abstract, muted howling. The landscapes are the best part of the film’s power: woodlands grey with mist and rain; seasons grudging with their colours; a woody gorge spanned by a mouldering, spectacular viaduct that becomes a character – a kind of devil ex machina – all its own.