Movie review of The Smudging
I had the good fortune to see The Smudging in its Bay Area premiere. The film and event was hosted by Mike Marin, who grew up at IFH, the Intertribal Friendship House, in Oakland. He began his film in 2015 inspired by his lifelong fascination with horror movies including the sleeper hit, It Follows. After seeing that film, he went to a restaurant and began to write his concept on several napkins. It is based on real-life experiences Mike and acquaintances had at the American Indian Center in Chicago which became the location of The Smudging. The film also pays tribute to stories he heard from family members and mentors. Mike Marin is quickly becoming the face of urban Native American horror.
One of my dance brothers had posted on Facebook about this film and it immediately got my attention. I have written extensively about my love for horror film and fiction. I’m always excited to support Native American artists, artists of color, and Bay-Area bred artists. While at the premiere, I met Mike Marin and Kevin Nez, of The Mac Nez podcast. I asked Mike a few questions about how long it took him to make the film and what his plans are in terms of distribution. According to Mike Marin, The Smudging is his tribute to old school horror with the goal of bringing back moments of terror in the audience and getting away from modern-day Hollywood gimmicks of gore and sex.
The Smudging follows a group of Native paranormal investigators, the Night Stalkers, who are called to investigate The Native American Cultural Center in Chicago. The building was unfortunately the scene of lurid crimes committed by a serial killer. Both staff and clients have been experiencing increased instances of paranormal activity including voices, moving objects, and general feelings of unease. The young children who attend the center are especially prone to experiences and are then unwilling to participate. Parents are pulling their kids out of the center to combat the resulting nightmares and fears. The Night Stalkers decide to spend the night filming and learning what might be happening. It’s a terrifying film. Even though the action mostly takes place in a massive four-story building, the first half of the film is claustrophobic. I was in a roomful of people yet I felt like I was crouching in a corner. The second half of the film brings in the hero figure who also happens to be a veteran and a healer.
As a horror movie aficionado, I enjoyed a film that was original and yet had an old-school feel. Despite its modest budget, this film captivated me for the 90 minutes of its entirety. My heart was racing and I held my breath for most of the film. I also enjoyed the all-Native cast; it’s refreshing to see so many people of color in a film. The relationships between the members of the Night Stalkers were relatable and often humorous. The moments of humor helped balance the genuine horror the audience was experiencing. There were several cultural references which gave a uniquely Native perspective. The film also included horror movie musts like jump scares, scary music, and a building sense of dread. An underappreciated element of horror is the life lessons the characters gain; the films that resonate with me are those which highlight the best in people and in that respect, this film did not disappoint. The Smudging met and exceeded my expectations.
After the film, Kevin moderated a Q&A session. We learned more about the process, heard some funny behind the scenes anecdotes, more about the individual cast members, and even some trivia about the props used. I liked having an insider view of the film. We were also treated to the trailer for Mike Marin’s next film, Moshego. We were then encouraged to share our thoughts via social media and I was more than happy to oblige.
I am excited for what is next for #thesmudgingmovie. There is the possibility of another Oakland screening in the next few months. This is a film we need to support. Whether you are from Oakland or a Native or a horror movie fan or a supporter of artists of color or any combination of these, please make an effort to see the film.
Mike, I wish you ashe and I’m excited to be a supporter of your film.
To learn more about the film, visit #thesmudgingmovie