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Smiling Woman Movie Review

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

Released by ACM Films

smiling woman large

Written and directed by Alex Magaña
2019, 3 minutes, Not Rated
Released on October 31st, 2019

Ariel Fullinwider as Girl
Merlynda Sol as Smiling Woman

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“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.“ -H.P. Lovecraft

We’ve all heard it before, but it never goes out of style because it’s the definition of undeniable truth. Monsters are great and slashers are bloody good fun, but for a scare factor that gets a primal response you have to go with the shit you just can’t explain. It’s the horror that just shouldn’t be there that’ll make those proverbial hairs on the back of your neck stand up and send that chill up your spine.

Writer/director Alex Magaña (Slapped! The Movie) seems to have a pretty firm grasp on this in his short film, Smiling Woman. He also understands that exposition isn’t a necessary component of fear; if anything, it’s often the enemy.

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The scenario is a simple one. Girl (Ariel Fullinwider) is waiting at a train station late at night. She’s completely alone…at least at first. There’s a seemingly pretty young woman staring at her from afar. At first, Girl doesn’t even see Smiling Woman (Merlynda Sol). Her yellow dress hangs off one shoulder, and her head is cocked slightly to the side in an appraising (and vaguely menacing) fashion. Girl spots her across the tracks as her phone receives a text from Unknown that simply says “Hi”. When she looks back, Smiling Woman is gone. Seconds later, she’s on her side of the tracks. When she responds to the text, she gets a chilling response…and The Smiling Woman gets closer. And closer. And the responses get worse.

What stands out is the production value, first and foremost. This is no student film;

This is a professional grade short from a guy who knows how to make a quality film. Generally dealing in lighter comedic fare, Alex Magaña proves in less than three minutes that he’s got an eye and a mind for what works on the darker side of life, too.

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The two actors are strong and bring depth to simple roles in a film that’s short (even by short film standards). Girl is utterly believable in her fear, and Smiling Woman? Her silent performance takes the expression “if looks could kill” and gives it hideous life. There's an Evil Dead quality to her that is unmistakable and eerie.

The simplicity and ambiguity of Smiling Woman are the strongest elements. There’s no explanation, no setup, no pretense of fear. Girl is simply placed in a situation that would (at the very least) unnerve the crap out of anyone. When you’re given a better look at her, she freezes you in your tracks. There’s nothing wrong with her on the surface, but that smile has all kinds of bad intentions in it. Then she starts moving like one of the damn Silent Hill nurses, and that’s the cue for a nice, loud “Fuck all that noise!”

Smiling Woman is simple and effective in a way that the really good silent films are (though it’s not technically silent). It’s direct, unexplainable, and implacable. I’m not sure how you flesh out that story into something longer, but I’d love to see it done.

Seriously, let’s see it.

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Movie: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Reviewer - USA
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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