Urban legend has come to the Internet age in Smiley, a new slasher film directed by Michael J. Gallagher. For a first feature from such a young director, especially a feature cast with nobodies – save a few YouTube ‘stars’ – and let’s face it, a rather silly plot, expectations for Smiley are low at best. Perhaps it is from these low expectations that the film was able to shine. Smiley is by no means a perfect film, nor a fantastic film, but it is solid and it is a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
The premise of Smiley is a familiar one transferred to the Internet age. Think of stories like Bloody Mary, or the classic Clive Barker horror Candyman (1992) where saying the name of a murderous monster will conjure them behind you. In this case, go into an online chat with a stranger and type the phrase “I did it for the lulz” three times and Smiley will appear behind them and gut his/your victim, recording the event in a kind of webcam snuff video. After befriending a group of hackers and others her flatmate, Proxy (Melanie Papalia) met on an Internet message board, college freshman, Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) and Proxy summon Smiley to see if he is really true. They witness a grisly murder, which Ashley believes she is responsible for, and so begins Ashley’s downward spiral where the lines between her reality, her mental illness and her dreams are continually blurred. The plot is underlined by the lectures in Ashley’s Reasons and Ethics class as professor Clayton (Roger Bart) not only influences the way Ashley thinks about her considerable dilemma but also leads the speculation of what happens if the Internet could grow a consciousness. This is essentially what the mysterious Smiley character is made out to be – all of the evil on the Internet personified.
Ashley’s uncertainty is one of the best things Smiley has going for it – never knowing what’s real or what’s imagined or dreamt and then the whole prospect of everything being some sick prank. The plot could have gone the path of so many other teen slashers with a predictably laid out plot where you just sit back and wait to discover the truth about the killer, which you had probably already guessed within the film’s first twenty minutes. Not so with Smiley and its plot that had me guessing and interested until the end – and even then nothing is wrapped up nicely leading the way for what I hope will be at least one sequel.
Smiley himself is the film’s other main attraction – just get a load of that guy! He’s definitely one of the best looking supernatural slashers and, should Smiley become a franchise, I’m sure will spawn a market for Halloween masks as much as Scream‘s Ghost Face. Smiley’s appearance was also quite well executed, only seeing him in flashes left me craving to get a better look at that hideousness. I perhaps would have liked to learn more about Smiley, but his obscurity does add to the overall effect of his mystery and therefore appeal.
There isn’t that much gore in this film, considering, and only minimal violence. Not that I’m particularly against gory or violent films but it is nice to see a slasher film that keeps its blood splatter to a minimal necessity.
Smiley certainly is not without it flaws and a lot of early reviews circulating at the moment can’t see too far beyond these imperfections. There are a number of plot holes that fail to be accounted for by the end, the dialogue is just not great and the overall quality of acting is generally mediocre. And that goes doubly for Melanie Papalia who did a terrible job of portraying an already annoying and inane character. And what kind of name is Proxy anyway? The stand out cast member was definitely Roger Bart who did a fine job of portraying the weird professor who is equal parts friendly and approachable teacher and creepy sociopath.
So we’ve essentially known the premise before and there are a league of overall better movies out there. But there are also a hell of a lot of worse slasher films too. And I even got a lesson in Internet-speak, now knowing what a “lulz” is. Smiley probably won’t rock your world, but it will at least mildly entertain and Smiley’s face alone is sure to please most.