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2012 | 93 min | R | 1.85:1



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Theatrical release date

 12 October, 2012

Country of origin

 United States



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Smiley Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 12, 2012

With the release of “Smiley,” the horror genre has reached a new low. Or perhaps a total exhaustion of malevolent possibilities is a more accurate summary of the monumental nonsense that’s intended to pass for a story, which two screenwriters have bravely taken full credit for. A ludicrous condemnation of hacktivism layered with worn out slasher clichés, “Smiley” is witless, charmless motion picture that imagines itself an ideal vessel for co-writer/director Michael J. Gallagher to purge his rudimentary ideas on the fragile state of online ethics, hoping to offer younger audiences a lesson on reckless behavior while mounting one of the most inept movies of 2012. The only thing truly scary about this terror film is that somebody paid to have it produced.

Off to college after the suicide of her mother, Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) is struggling to remain chipper and focused, excited for the educational challenges ahead of her, including a class on human ethics taught by oddball Professor Clayton (Roger Bart). Bonding with roommate Proxy (Melanie Papalia), Ashley is introduced to a community of internet enthusiasts carrying on in secret, led by security analyst Zane (Andrew James Allen), who bring the nightmare of Smiley to the freshman’s attention. A serial killer who prowls a Chat Roulette-style website waiting for users to beckon his sinister force by typing “I did it for the lulz” three times, Smiley wears a ghoulish mask and knows no boundaries, freaking out Ashley when her online dalliance with the demon results in a murder. In the midst of an emotional breakdown, requiring attention from her therapist (Liza Weil, miles away from her triumphant run as Paris Geller on “Gilmore Girls”), Ashley is having trouble processing reality, fearing Smiley has turned his attention to her, leaving the terrified student with no escape.

Horror movies are a dime a dozen these days, with a sizable amount of aspiring filmmakers reaching for the genre to make a name for themselves with all manner of violence and franchise potential. Gallagher (with co-writer Glasgow Phillips), sniffs around for a fresh approach to an age-old slasher concept, building on the wreckage of such internet-inspired productions as “Cry_Wolf” and “FeardotCom.” Instead of a creature or maniac running around killing overacting innocents, Smiley is described as the manifestation of all the evil the internet provides, used as a weapon for those who toy with life and death online. He’s a beefy spirit patrolling voyeur sites and grim forums where anonymous types traffic in unseemly behavior and blasé attitudes, with the mantra “I did it all for the lulz” repeated as a deadening statement of generational disengagement. Murder and humiliation has become entertainment to the kids of today.

In stronger filmmaking hands, maybe “Smiley” could’ve reached an intriguing sense of consideration and brave condemnation, lashing out at an apathetic age group raised on pure cynicism. In Gallagher’s command, “Smiley” can’t go a full minute without getting dizzy, emphasizing amateurish production values, idiotic screenwriting, and abysmal performances. To be fair, the talent doesn’t have a chance to shine when delivering clunky lines and embodying exaggerated personalities (painfully trendy haircuts do not help the cause), with Gerard awkwardly cartoonish as Ashley, while Allen is insufferably hammy as lead lulzer Zane. Gallagher shows no control over his cast, confusing unchecked indication for soulful stirring. A critical casting mistake is also made with the inclusion of Shane Dawson, here portraying kindly, virginal hacker Binder, who cozies up to Caitlin in her time of need. Dawson doesn’t possess the dimension to play such a suspicious character, destroying the potential of Binder’s mysterious ways.

Using the internet to ground a tale of murder is a difficult challenge, requiring intensive screenwriting to plug all the holes that arrive with thoughts of traces and public knowledge. “Smiley” doesn’t even begin to answer all the questions left behind at the end of the movie, as that would decimate Gallagher’s attempt to kickstart his own monster series. “Smiley” instead concludes with a hefty dose of nihilism, preaching to the viewer when I presume most paying customers would rather enjoy a single robust scare (the production only carries the ridiculously cheap stuff). Instead of welcoming the confusion and frustration brought on by a viewing of “Smiley,” perhaps that time would be better spent online, searching for ways to get your own horror script produced. From what I’ve seen, anyone can get a fright film made these days.

Starring: Caitlin Gerard, Shane Dawson, Roger Bart, Melanie Papalia, Keith David, Liza Weil
Director: Michael J. Gallagher

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