Arc Entertainment // 2012 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // February 22nd, 2013
Evil wears a smile.
Everyone loves the internet. It allows us to buy cheap goods and quantify our friends, so how could we not? There's another side to cyberspace, though, that most people don't access or consider. Hackers, whether in it for personal monetary gain or for more worldly concerns of "hacktivism," bring up the deep security issues of the technology and randomized chat rooms, whether populated by predators or pervs, reveal the dangers of supposed anonymity. It goes deeper, into grander scales and darker realms, but it is under those two issues that director Michael Gallagher has constructed his first feature film, Smiley, about an internet meme made real.
Ashley (Caitlin Gerard, Magic Mike) has just arrived for her first day at college and develops an instant rapport with her new roommate, Proxy (Melanie Papalia, American Pie Presents: The Book of Love). Proxy isn't her real name, but an internet handle that everybody knows her by. She and her friends all refer to each other by their handles, which they use on their popular online message board. On that site, the urban legend of "Smiley" has gone viral. Apparently, if you're chatting with somebody and type "I did it for the lulz" three times into the chatlog, a masked killer will appear onscreen and kill the person. After this freaks Ashley out, Proxy takes her online to prove it's false but, when Smiley actually does appear, the impossible is proven real. Worse yet, Smiley is now targeting Ashley and she has to do the unthinkable to keep him from her door.
Ashley must be the most naive person on Earth. Given how this plays out and how much of it was telegraphed, there was really no excuse for her to be so scared. Still, if irrationality was a deal breaker, there would be no such thing as the horror genre, so some things have to be forgiven. To that, Smiley has plenty of problems, but it has its merits, as well.
Mining the sinister potential of the internet is fairly novel for a slasher movie and, as far as plausibility of this sort of movie goes, it isn't all that far out of bounds. It's not believable and the ending is just plain silly, but until then the movie works well as your basic chase and stab thriller. Ashley is new in town, has a history of bipolar disorder, and is easily frightened, making her perfect horror film fodder. She's a sweet and relatively likable heroine, just not a very bright one.
Her friends don't seem too bright, either, but that gets too far into spoilers to really discuss, because there's a reason for it. That reason, though, is the biggest problem with the movie. I see no problem with using modern popular culture for a horror plot; I encourage it. Still it's almost easier to believe the supernatural aspects of Smiley than the aspects based in reality. It would simply take such a concerted effort to make what goes on actually happen that it makes me wish it was all as it seemed.
Gallagher, who is an internet veteran with his Totally Sketch online comedy show, also helped write the film. For that, should be ashamed of his terrible misuse of internet lingo. It often sounds more like his grandmother wrote it, given some of the usage, though I can't condemn it entirely under those terms. Outside of the lingo, the dialog is fairly decent and the characters, while often unlikable, have distinct personalities, which is more than I can say from much larger budgeted horror films from much more experienced writers and directors.
Smiley also features a couple of great character actors in Roger Bart (Excision) and Keith David (Death at a Funeral), so there are things to like about the film. Its dialog, lack of body count or gore, and overuse of jump scares over genuine suspense may not allow it a huge recommendation, but it definitely has its merits.
The DVD release comes from Arc and is perfectly acceptable. The 1.85:1 image transfer is generally good, with no transfer errors and fairly natural colors. It's a dark film, but the detail remains strong even at its darkest. The sound is strong, as well, with a surround track that does the job nicely, especially for a small budget indie. The dialog is clear and there's good separation throughout the spectrum and decent work in the low end.
Extras are slight, starting with an enjoyable audio commentary with Gallagher, Roger Bart, and star Shane Dawson (Youtube series Shane Dawson TV). They focus on the good about the movie, but are still honest about its faults, pointing out flubs and logical inconsistencies while still having fun with the film. It's a fun talk, but the only other extras are a pair of short gag reels that don't amount to much.
I don't really recommend Smiley, but if anything here has intrigued you, I warn you not to go online and look up anything else about the movie, because any surprises (underwhelming as they may be), will be spoiled. The weird and unfortunate corollary to this movie is what happened after word of it got out to on the 'tubes. Because of some of the implications in the movie, a certain site exacted their nerd wrath upon it. They sent Gallagher threats, posted his personal information online, and looking at the analytics, pretty clearly trolled IMDb to make sure the film had as low a rating as possible. For this, especially the personal stuff, they should be ashamed of themselves. This, though, is a group who has proven they have no shame, so all I can do is ask that viewers take the movie for what it is, not for what the trolls say it is, and sit back, waiting to get trolled myself. The movie isn't great by any measure, but nor is it all that awful.
Review content copyright © 2013 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Arc Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Gag Reel
* Official Site