Hey gang, Valkor here. One of the top places that I look forward to visiting in the near future is most definitely Thailand. I mean from what I’ve seen and have been told from friends who’ve been there, the place has great beaches, shopping, and loads of delicious foods. And I can’t wait to try it all. So, how does that relate to the next film up on the MediaView chopping block – Land of Smiles? Well, the film takes place in Thailand, but it doesn’t reinforce tourism… or ever watching this film again. Read on and prep for some spoilers.
“Land of Smiles” centers on a young girl named Abby (Alexandra Turshen), who decides that the love of her life is more important than the years of friendship with her best pal Penny (Krista Donargo); the two were supposed to take a trip together to Thailand, but Penny goes at it alone, since Abby wants to make things work with her man Brett. Unfortunately, Brett had other plans as Abby walks in on him and another woman going at it hot and heavy. And with the quickness, she races off after Penny with plans to meet up with her somewhere in Thailand.
During Abby’s solo journey, she befriends filmmaker Ben (Keenan Henson) and his friend Jewel (Caitlyn Stryker), who persuade her to tag along with them to a remote island, where eventually Abby and Penny could meet up. But that never happens as it is revealed that Penny has been kidnapped. And in order for Abby to see her again, she’ll have to follow a specific instruction to “have fun”. Oh and not to tell anyone or else Penny gets it. Well, Abby tells Ben and Jewel who tell her that it's all part of some elaborate prank - they even show her related video. They explain that friends perform this type of prank to bring their friends out of whatever funk they’re in. Personally, I don’t see how this works or why anyone would do this, but I’m still watching. And Abby and company are also playing along. Eventually, Abby realizes that this is more than just a prank as more clues arrive bringing her ever closer to Penny. But who is actually behind it all and what’s his/her/their agenda?
“Land of Smiles”, you could say, is part of the found footage genre; the film is shown from a few perspectives – the main point of view is from Abby, who is filming everything for her video diary, which includes everything that happened back home up until the events in Thailand. Then you have Ben's point of view, as he’s supposedly shooting a film about backpackers. Intermixed between the two you also get a third camera person who is filming Abby and her group as well as security video. When combined, does work to tell a seamless story?
There isn’t much that I liked about “Land of Smiles”; the plot is kind of ominous and going in I thought I’d see some “Hostel/Grotesque” type of savagery. But it’s actually a slow and boring puzzle of a film where the pieces don't always fit. What throws me off was when Ben revealed to Abby that Penny’s kidnapping might have been part of a prank. I don’t get it, how is that even remotely amusing? How is that supposed to make Abby happy? Yea, let’s add an immense amount of stress on top of that shit that she’s already going through. Her best friend is kidnapped and appears to be hurt, but the guy who kidnapped her tells her to “have fun”. And then they actually proceed to party, thus following the kidnapper’s instructions. Sure Abby still has Penny on the back of her mind, but this is just too weird even for me. The film loses the feeling of a “found-footage film”, in how all the pieces are edited together. It doesn’t feel very amateurish, almost professionally done. Maybe if it was just Abby’s camera that was the focus, it would have worked out better? Maybe? In the end, Land of Smiles didn't leave the best impression. And while it won't rank as one of the worst films I've viewed, it's still not worth checking out.
“Land of Smiles” is running the festival circuit and looks to get a wider release later this year. If you’re into found footage films, you might find something to enjoy, but the story and other elements left me wanting something with more pop to it. So out of TOV 5 stars, I’m giving “Land of Smiles” a 2.