The internet is a new and fascinating way to communicate, share, and create with other people across the world. It’s an exciting new technology that could have (and has had) boundless effects, on culture, society, and life itself. Unfortunately, it also means we get terrible films based on websites filled with deplorable people. Like Smiley.
Smiley is a slasher movie co-written and directed by Michael Gallagher, creator of web comedy series Totally Sketch. The premise of the film is that there is a man, a monster, who appears and guts people on web chats when you type ‘I did it for the lulz’ 3 times. So basically the internet version of Bloody Mary. This is, of course, an urban legend, created by people of the /b/ board on image board and home of everything people hate about the internet, 4chan. However, a girl called Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) moves into a new house-share, and finds her new friend called Proxy (Melanie Papalia) is in with a group called Anonymous, an group of ‘trolls’ from 4chan who specialise in hacking, reference outdated internet memes, and generally being horrible people.
She goes to a meet-up with this group and doesn’t really like them, except for one tortured loner by the name of Binder (Shane Dawson). They tell her about the legend of Smiley, and her Proxy decide to try it. To their horror, it works, and Smiley appears in a stranger’s chat and kills them. They agree to not speak of this to anyone, but Ashley is getting more and more paranoid, with no one listening to her, especially mandatory skeptical police detective Diamond (Keith David, in a wonderful cameo). Ashley must now battle with her own psyche and decide if Smiley is hunting her, or if she’s going insane.
The trailer generated a lot of buzz on the internet upon its release, most due to it prominently featuring internet celebrities Shane Dawson and Toby Turner, along with fan favourite Keith David. However, upon release, the response has been less than positive. Most reviews range from saying its a generic slasher to saying its a ridiculous piece of rubbish, and it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 3.8/10. I was very excited for this movie, not just because of the cast, but because the trailer looked like a cool psychological take on a slasher flick, and possibly introducing a new iconic horror villain. The truth is, however, that Smiley is none of the things it promised to be.
Let’s start with the premise. Admittedly, it’s pretty cool. A killer who can be summoned through the internet. However, this leads to a massive amount of internet references that seem dated even now (Pedo Bear, Chocolate Rain etc.), and the inclusion of 4chan and Anonymous only feel like they’re there to make the film seem ‘current’. No evidence is clearer of this than the inclusion of Shane Dawson and Toby Turner. I’m not such a big fan of Dawson, but seeing Turner on the screen in a movie was something I was really looking forward to. It’s a shame then, that Turner’s role is nothing more than a cameo at best, taking the role of a college student we only see for a couple of scenes and only feels there to service the fans. Why they did this, I don’t know, as Toby is a really talented comedian, they just need to give him some decent dialogue.
Speaking of, the dialogue in this film is nothing short of horrendous. The characters spurt out lines that even internet nerds wouldn’t say, and has some of the most over the top characterization I’ve seen in a while. The characters are practically non-existent, with Ashley having pretty much no outstanding traits, apart from the fact that she’s hesitant to try pot with Proxy. Shane Dawson plays the loner emo-boy, and has a haircut to match. He’s very much a character actor, as seen by his YouTube videos, but they would really need to give him a character for that to come into much effect.
Smiley faces a big problem for a horror film: it isn’t scary. And for a horror movie, that’s a pretty massive problem. There’s no atmosphere created at all. The sheer amount of ‘boo’ scares is uncountable. There all follow a simple formula, that goes like this: a character is doing a seemingly trivial act (cooking, on the computer, walking etc.) when suddenly they will hear something. Either something shifting, something breathing, or, to really switch it up, something calls the character’s name! They slowly walk towards the sound, often shouting things like hello? or who’s there? as they go. Them going towards the sound is accompanied with a long violin note. As they near the location of said sound, the note reaches it’s climax. The character looks, and nothing is there. Everything is fine. They let out a sigh of relief, and begin to turn around. The camera then is poised at the side of their head in a profile-like shot, and as they turn around, the camera pans with them and then there he is! The killer is waiting for them! Then they either get killed, or a chase scene occurs, where the killer will either eventually capture them, or the character will just get away by the skin of their teeth. Does this sound familiar to you? If so, congratulations! You have watched pretty much any slasher movie ever made. It just seems lazy to be relying on these age-old cichÃ©s when Scream was making fun of them in 1996.
In October 2011, Shane Dawson made a Halloween short film. It took the form of a horror comedy by the name of Friends 4 Ever. It satirised slasher films by having the characters forming stereotypes but being more genre savvy about it. It had a big twist ending that was really quite clever, and propelled the film from a mildly funny short film into an all around success. If you have seen Friends 4 Ever, then you have seen Smiley. I’m not joking, it has the exact same twist ending. They just took the ending of Dawson’s film, and dropped it into this one. Then they throw one final twist at you that’s supposed to make you gasp in shock, but instead you’re left scratching your head wondering how any of it makes even a tiny bit of sense. The answer is, it doesn’t. Nothing makes sense. The ending is a complete insult and only proceeds to add salt to the wound.
Smiley is shaping up to be one of the biggest let-downs of the year. It had a promising trailer, with a good cast and an interesting looking villain to back it up. The fact is, Smiley himself is hardly ever on screen, save for the occasional appearance on a computer screen or a dream sequence. Even the cast is disappointing, with Dawson being given nothing to do but mope and look like a puppy dog, Toby Turner being spectacularly wasted for a couple of cameo scenes, and Keith David having a total of one scene, and that was the one in the trailer. If you want to see it because of him, just watch the trailer and you’ve seen the extent of his role. With awful direction, acting, writing, and general execution, Smiley is a film you can definitely afford to miss.