Review: Smiley / Cert: 15 / Director: Michael J. Gallagher / Screenplay: Ezra Cooperstein, Michael J. Gallagher, Glasgow Phillips / Starring: Caitlin Gerard, Melanie Papalia, Shane Dawson, Roger Bart / Release Date: October 14th
Smiley is a horror film that looks to give the genre a new iconic killer with a modern-day twist. The titular Smiley is essentially a cyber-killer. Brought to life via online video-chat software, Smiley is summoned by a user typing the phrase “I did it for the lulz” three times. Upon doing this, Smiley appears behind the person on the opposite end of the chat, and proceeds to butcher them. After witnessing such a murder, naïve college girl Ashley (Gerard) believes she is being stalked by Smiley, but also fears that her mentally unstable past is coming back to haunt her. Still with us? We hope so.
Think Scream, but replace the “What’s your favourite scary movie?” line with text instead. Take Candyman, but replace the summoning through a mirror with summoning through video software. The thing is, those films were groundbreaking at the time of their release. Smiley just falls flat in that regard. Also, with the character only being summoned by somebody typing “I did it for the lulz” – what the deuce is a lul anyway? – you know exactly when to expect the killer, taking away any surprise element. Yes, you can throw a similar claim at Candyman, but Candyman is a film that had a charismatic lead character, delivered expertly by Tony Todd, and one that was fleshed out with flashbacks and backstory reveals. Smiley remains a faceless killer for the most part, with a mask that looks like a disregarded Scarecrow outfit from Batman Begins.
Whilst the story isn’t unbearably bad, it feels at least a decade or more too late – like an unused Kevin Williamson script that should have been made in the late '90s or early 2000s. The film is a slasher-type horror, but it has safe scares that never threaten to do anything spectacular. In that way, it’s similar in style to the likes of I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty, Valentine and Urban Legend. At least three of those films were relatively fresh at the time, but Smiley just feels like their left-behind, unwanted brother.
The performances are the usual fodder that you’d expect from such a film, boring, bland and clichéd. It’s only really Roger Bart who puts in an interesting turn, playing a seedy college professor, although a far-too-brief Keith David cameo threatens to steal the show. Full of throwaway characters, Smiley manages to rip off several films from previous years, whilst offering nothing new of its own. If this is the new face of horror, consider us offended.