Come on. I think there could be a lot more done with the horror medium involving the digital age. “Smiley” takes what could be a wonderful and brilliant premise and just waters it down to create a standard slasher flick. Granted, I adore slasher movies, but this is the kind of derivative, generic, manufactured slasher garbage that never entertains. It’s a dull and unevenly paced horror thriller with a nugget of an original concept that never fully realizes it at all. “Smiley” is often so poorly made, even the fake shock scares are telegraphed seconds in advance and fail to land. It also doesn’t help that the two female protagonists of “Smiley” are so irritating, hearing them talk and interact is equivalent to nails on a chalk board.
I never once felt any sympathy for these women, and I truly wanted to see Smiley massacre them before the film even reached its hour mark. Caitlin Gerard as protagonist Ashley looks like she should be teaching college courses instead of a freshman, and often spends most of the movie screeching like a howler monkey, and walking in to ridiculous scenarios that no one with common sense would dare attempt. She stumbles through the whole movie without a single essence of wit or intellect, and quivers through every bit of dialogue like she’s auditioning for a melodrama. Gerard looks like she should be playing a supporting character who dies ten minutes in to the movie, and fails to compel as the lead heroine.
And I had a difficult time believing someone in such a technologically savvy age where even a ten year old girl knows of chat rooms (see: the prologue of the film), that she could be so oblivious to the online world. “Wait–what is this concept of “chat rooms” you speak of? Lulz? What is this lulz? What is this strange lingo you speak of?” At one point she even marvels at the prospect of a hacker being a “computer expert”! “What? You know of this strange canvas called the internet?! You installed a Firewall? What is this wall of fire you mention? It is so foreign to my pea brain!” Melanie Papalia is even worse as character Proxy, who never quite knows how to play a skeptic, and instead gives off an air of smug narcissistic cruelty bordering on sociopathy that makes her a target many viewers will plead to suffer a painful death. Meanwhile, the moral of “Smiley” is so utterly heavy handed and obvious that the screenwriters try desperately to over complicate and existentialize a moral that is so simply told it’s ridiculous.
“We are Smiley! We are the killers! We kill one another, Smiley is just a tool!” We get it. You do not have to keep repeating it every ten minutes. There’s nothing really complex about that message and the writers really should have decided if they wanted Smiley to be a metaphor like Freddy Krueger, or a walking killing machine like Jason Voorhees. The writers try to tackle both plateaus of the villain and fail to master both. The movie clearly wants to be a whodunit, a meta-slasher, and an actual slasher, so it jumps from theme to theme, never quite delivering a remotely scary or atmospheric horror film. Can Smiley reach dreams? Is Smiley someone on campus? Is Smiley supernatural? Does he live on the internet?
The computer? Is he a manifestation of our base sadistic urges? Is he monster troll? Why are there so many damn dream sequences? The killer Smiley spends more time in the consciousness of Ashley than he does killing people. It’s Smiley! Run! Oh wait, it’s a dream. Smiley! Run for your–oh, it’s a dream. Smiley is right behind you! Look out! Oh, it’s a dream. Smiley! Oh no! Damn, another dream?! How often does Ashley sleep, anyway? Why do we have to delve in to Ashley’s psyche? Just show Smiley stalking dumb college students and cutting them to ribbons. What a waste of time. A smug, self serving piece of sanctimonious garbage, “Smiley” is neither a slasher film nor a cerebral take on a mythological creature. It’s a series of fake outs followed by a horrible climax. “Smiley” is a genre failure on every conceivable level from writing, acting, and directing and wastes a potentially brilliant premise.