The horror community is just like any other, full of people who have all kinds of aims and dreams and desires. Horror movie fans, and horror movie makers, aren’t all gorehounds who sit around in basements while wearing Cradle Of Filth t-shirts. They come in all shapes and sizes, and have all different ideas and opinions. That may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised by just how many people still paint one picture in their mind of a typical horror fan. Why am I starting off this review of Smiley by reminding everyone of this? Well, some people create quality horror movies and do their best to establish mood, tension and scares. Others try a different approach, thinking that they can establish a new horror icon. Director Michael J. Gallagher, who co-wrote this script with Glasgow Phillips (based on an idea by Ezra Cooperstein), is most definitely in the latter camp.
There are some decent ideas in Smiley, and it’s not consistently terrible, but I guess my attitude towards it can be summed up thus: in the memorable, and impressive, Candyman horror was brought to people who looked in a mirror and uttered his name five times whereas Smiley gets people to summon the titular character by typing “I did it for the lulz” three times. Yeah, that right there might be all you need to know.
Caitlin Gerard plays Ashley, the new girl at university who quickly learns from her housemate (Proxy, played by Melanie Papalia) about the urban legend concerning Smiley, a killer who can be summoned by the aforementioned means during online video chats. Yes, this is a killer for the Chatroulette generation. Wondering whether or not there is any truth in the legend, Ashley and Proxy inevitably try to summon the killer and are given quite a fright when he appears, killing the stranger on the other end of their video conversation. From that moment on, Ashley’s mental state starts to fray and unravel as she becomes convinced that Smiley is now out to get her.
Competently directed by Gallagher, Smiley suffers most from a weak script that’s laughable in places, and a mixed cast that can’t do enough to cover up the many cracks.
Gerard is quite good in the lead role, but Papalia, Shane Dawson and Andrew James Allen are all pretty poor. Thankfully, the more seasoned players help to balance things out. Liza Weil does well with her limited screentime, and a rather thankless role, Keith David is his usual Keith David-ness and Roger Bart is wonderful as a tutor with a very bleak, albeit interesting, view of the human race.
I’ve probably been sounding quite positive about Smiley and people might be tempted to give it a watch. Well, I’ve been polite because I don’t think the film is poorly made (from a technical standpoint, despite a number of obvious errors) and I don’t think those involved had terrible intentions. It’s bad though. It tries to seem relevant and smart when it’s not, it tries to create moments of tension but fails, it’s not one I can recommend to horror fans.
I won’t write off Gallagher and Phillips yet, both have time to grow and produce something worthwhile between them, but I won’t be over-enthusiastic to see whatever they do next.
Smiley will be facing you from the DVD section as of 14th October 2013.
DIRECTOR: MICHAEL J. GALLAGHER
WRITER: MICHAEL J. GALLAGHER, GLASGOW PHILLIPS
STARS: CAITLIN GERARD, MELANIE PAPALIA, SHANE DAWSON, ANDREW JAMES ALLEN, LIZA WEIL, ROGER BART, KEITH DAVID
RUNTIME: 90 MINS APPROX