03rd Oct2013

Grimmfest 2013 Review: ‘Smiley’

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Caitlin Gerard, Melanie Papalia, Shane Dawson, Andrew James Allen, Liza Weil, Keith David, Toby Turner | Written by Ezra Cooperstein, Michael J. Gallagher, Glasgow Phillips | Directed by Michael J. Gallagher

smiley

Smiley follows Ashley, a young woman freshly arrived at university, who finds herself caught up in the online urban legend of Smiley, a mysterious, seemingly supernatural killer who kills via a social networking site… After testing out the urban legend for herself, Ashley becomes paranoid and starts to think she sees Smiley everywhere, stalking her. But how can that be if he’s not real?

Literally a slasher movie for the internet age, Smiley features of cast of YouTube “celebrities” including Shane Dawson and Toby (Tobuscus) Turner and comes from writer Ezra Cooperstein, who also happens to be the head of sales for Maker Studios, one of the premiere producers of YouTube content. The plot is a riff on the classic ‘Bloody Mary’ urban legend, replacing a mirror with a Chatroulette wannabe – Hide and Go Chat – and the chanting of the key phrase with the less-than-stellar keywords “I did it for the lulz”. See, I told you, this is LITERALLY a movie for the internet age!

Part Nightmare on Elm Street, part Candyman, Smiley is one of those slasher movies that divided genre fans on its original release – so much so that the film had remained unreleased in the UK for over almost a year – yet it’s hard to see why. After all 1998′s Urban Legend was well-received and managed to spawn two sequels, and Smiley is essentially a continuation of that “story” set in the internet era. Maybe it’s the fact that the film was spawned from YouTube? I can see all the baggage that comes from being tied to that site and it’s faux “celebrity” culture could easily put a dampener on the films perception in some eyes.

However, for me it’s hard to pinpoint people’s issues with the movie. It certainly isn’t the story that lets the film down, this is a traditional slasher through and through; and unlike a lot of the independent horror produced direct for market, Smiley at least looks the part – from the production values to the appearance of the films villain – this is for all intents and purposes a well-produced, well-directed, fear flick. And the filmmakers at least try to add in an aspect of psychology to the mix – throwing in references to Occam’s Razor and the like during the many class-set scenes. It also helps that Smiley himself is one hell of a striking looking movie monster!

That’s not to say Smiley doesn’t have its problems. It’s cliched, full of stereotypes and features some of the most obnoxious characters committed to celluloid. Then there’s the wildly varied standards of “acting” – the main cast don’t hold a candle to the more experience actors in the film, in particular Roger Bart and Keith David, and ultimately the film is a complete rip-off of Wes Craven’s Scream, right down to the ridiculous twist ending, something which I’m sure Craven could argue a case for in court and win.

It’s not high art, it’s not even original, yet for some strange reason I came away from Smiley feeling completely slash-tisfied (groan). Which is all I want from a slasher movie…

Smiley screens at Grimmfest on Friday October 4th at 1.00pm, before making its UK DVD and Blu-ray debut on October 14th courtesy of Signature Entertainment.

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