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'Smiley' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

By

'Smiley' movie poster
© Fever Productions
Like Grave Encounters last year, Smiley is a small indie horror flick that generated buzz online thanks to a visually striking trailer (nearly 18 million views and counting), but does that anticipation ensure a letdown when the final product comes out? Probably, because Smiley isn't what most horror fans assume; it's actually something quite deeper.

The Plot

Trying to find her way in a new school, naïve college freshman Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) moves in with party girl Proxy (Melanie Papalia), who soon introduces her to a circle of friends who frequent the infamous anonymous bulletin board website 4chan. The group introduces her to the urban legend of Smiley, a 21st century boogeyman with a smiley face carved into his visage who supposedly kills anyone on the Chatroulette-esque site HideAndGoChat if the other person on the chat types the phrase "I did it for the lulz" three times. At a party thrown by the friends' de facto leader Zane (Andrew James Allen), they test the theory on a random stranger, who appears to be killed by Smiley, but everyone assumes it's a hoax.

Later, Ashley and Proxy try it one more time just to prove to themselves that it's fake, but to their dismay, Smiley once again shows up to slice and dice a stranger on the other end of the chat. Things get worse when members of their inner circle begin to die, and it appears that Smiley is turning the tables on his summoners.

The End Result

A scene from 'Smiley'.

A scene from 'Smiley'.

© Fever Productions
Going in to Smiley, I was prepared to dislike the concept (just another slasher with an unstoppable masked killer) but perhaps enjoy the execution, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. The concept ended up being much deeper and more introspective than anyone would've guessed, while the execution is lackluster. Initially, Smiley seems like a straightforward, knuckleheaded genre flick, but when it introduces the character of Professor Clayton (played by the great Roger Bart), his Reason & Ethics lectures put a whole new spin on the content. As Clayton delves into the existence of evil, the nature of humanity and man's place in the universe, his existential language colors the events of the film, turning it into a grand metaphor for man's inhumanity to man.

And what better place to witness man's inhumanity to man than on the Internet? In Smiley, 4chan is the target, but you need only visit the comments section of any typical online news article -- particularly one dealing with politics, race or sexuality -- to figure out you've entered the cesspool of humanity. "I did it for the lulz" embodies the juvenile nihilism of typical online discourse, while Smiley himself represents the evil within us all that we somehow feel is appropriate to unleash online in violent, homophobic, misogynistic, racist posts hidden behind the cowardice of anonymity (see 4chan's real-life death threats towards Smiley director Michael Gallagher). Thus, the Internet -- and to an extent, humanity itself -- is a tool through which evil spreads, and beneath its slasher exterior, Smiley understands this and is more than willing to slyly undercut it all.

All of Professor Clayton's smartly penned proselytizing, however, is awkwardly aligned with dimwitted genre clichés and mediocre execution. As insightful as the overall message is, the slasher trappings are bland and nearly bloodless with stilted dialogue, a stiff lead actress and at times painfully low production values. It's bad enough that some viewers will no doubt tune out to such an extent that the message never sinks in -- which is a shame, because unlike the vast majority of horror movies, Smiley has something to say.

The Skinny

  • Acting: C (Gerard is a weak lead; Bart steals the show.)
  • Direction: C+ (Competent, but low on scares or genuine emotion.)
  • Script: B (Smart and exceedingly ambitious, although the more genre-specific, plot-driven dialogue is stiff.)
  • Gore/Effects: C+ (Modest gore.)
  • Overall: C+ (Surprisingly and refreshingly deep and introspective in concept, but the execution lacks genre thrills.)

Smiley is directed by Michael J. Gallagher and is rated R by the MPAA for strong graphic bloody violence throughout and language. Release date: October 12, 2012.

Disclosure: The distributor provided free access to this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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