Directed by Michael J. Gallagher
If you’ve ever been to the Internet’s darkest corner that is 4chan, then you know it was only a matter of time before some savvy young filmmaker decided to base a film around the kinds of horrible things you can find there on a regular basis. It’s the most inspired thing about Smiley, a modern-day slasher flick that seems to fizzle out before it ever picks up steam.
It begins well enough. A young woman finds herself in an online chat and hears the urban legend surrounding Smiley, a manifestation of all the Internet’s evil and depravity. Allegedly, this techno-boogeyman is summoned by typing ”I did it for the lulz” three times into the chat window. Then the instigator simply kicks back, and watches our resident slasher do his dirty work – all from the pixilated safety of their webcam. It’s a modern spin on this oft-traveled road we call the slasher subgenre, and if you’ve ever spent time on 4chan (or done any kind of Internet trolling), then you know that Smiley captures this world fairly well. Hell, it even puts appropriate faces on the kinds of people you imagine being on the other end of 4chan posts, and that’s no easy feat.
But that’s where Smiley also runs into problems. Slasher movies work best when the audience cares enough about the core characters to worry for them. Here, we’ve got a bunch of insufferably self-absorbed jerks that deserve everything they might get. Early on, one guy is berated into leaving a party because the rest of the trolls didn’t like some of the stuff he posted to 4chan (#firstworldproblems). Later, we get a cascade of unsympathetic reactions to a brutal murder. And even our heroines skirt unlikability when they unwittingly cause the death of a chat room creep and decide against reporting it because they might be implicated (despite being on the other end of web chat) in the killing.
Smiley isn’t very exciting, either. As a horror film, it’s not scary. There’s zero suspense to be found in the minor setpieces that exist and the climax falls completely flat, favoring a truly unfortunate plot twist over a mano-a-mano battle with the killer. The body count is low, the deaths bloodless and our protagonist isn’t interesting enough to carry the movie through the abundant downtime. It’s a movie that seems to think its mystery is strong enough to keep the viewer engaged, but in reality never moves beyond an interesting concept. By the end it doesn’t feel like anything more than a wasted opportunity.
Smiley is an amalgamation of slasher tropes that genre fans will have no trouble identifying. The problem being one can’t help but think about the films that inspired this one without also realizing how much better they were. Take a dash of Candyman (not a slasher per se, but Smiley owes a lot to it, all the same), sprinkle in some Urban Legend and you’ve got Smiley. It also borrows heavily from a few other slasher flicks, but citing them here would mean completely dashing all of the third act “surprises”.
What begins with promise quickly turns into a genuine endurance test. Smiley really doesn’t have much to offer horror fans. A cool-looking villain, perhaps, who’s all but wasted in this disappointing outing. U mad, bro?
1 1/2 out of 5