“Smiley” is an ambitious re-imagining of Marcel Proust’s monumental seven volume series “In Search of Lost Time”, where a group of emoticons, led by the titular colon-parenthesis and trapped in the lifeless void of an online chat room, debate ethics and the nature of existence while….
Heh heh heh, just kidding. A literary joke to break the ice. “Smiley” actually draws more heavily on Aristotle’s “Poetics” in its examination of…
Oops–I kid again. Like my first car, can’t seem to get this thing started. Bear with me. OK, here we go…
In “Smiley,” we meet the latest variation on the urban legend horror story, this time given a viral video/internet chat room twist. Caitlin Gerard plays Ashley, a college student with a traumatic past, who tests an urban legend about an online chat room and summons a masked killer named Smiley. With her roommate (Melanie Papalia), and her new computer whiz friend (Shane Dawson), Ashley has to fight to keep her sanity and stay alive as the body count rises, and Smiley draws closer. Or does he?
Sounds a lot like Proust, no? The idea of viral online violence manifesting as an actual physical being is one with potential. But director Michael Gallagher and co-screenwriter Glasgow Phillips bury it in thoughtless horror-movie tropes and poor dialogue.
This is standard issue low-budget horror that counts on a great deal of faith on the part of the viewer. Suspending disbelief and the need for logic, looking past the obviously unpopulated campus setting, actually caring about the cardboard supporting cast. Things like that.
Gerard brings a respectable level of bug-eyed energy to Ashley’s descent into madness, but she is adrift in a screenplay that relies heavily on “jump out” scares rather than any kind of sustained tension or smarts. Roger Bart plays a sympathetic college professor, and gives his scenes more dignity than they deserve. Keith David has two scenes as the expected dubious detective. Performances by the supporting cast range from borderline deranged to merely hokey.
The plot never rises above risible, and I defy anyone to explain the ending in a way that doesn’t defy the laws of time, space and logic (it probably defies the three laws of robotics, too, at some point). Hey, at least everyone involved seems to understand that it makes no sense and just goes along for the ride (such as it is).
“Smiley” is presented in 16:9 Widescreen format. The digital transfer is adequate, but only just. There are no subtitles or video options.
The audio track is presented in English 5.1 Dolby Digital or 2.0 Dolby Digital. On my system, I had to frequently adjust the volume to both hear all the dialogue and not be blown out by the “jump” scare musical cues. There are no other audio set-up options.
- An extremely jokey and loose commentary track with director Michael Gallagher, and actors Shane Dawson and Roger Bart. Trivial at times, but engaging for its honesty about the low-budget elements of the shoot and acknowledgement of the film’s gaffes and shortcomings.
- Gory outtakes
- A gag reel, tiresome as these things usually are
- Theatrical trailer
There’s an idea about online violence buried in the glop here, but ”Smiley” is a forgettable horror-thriller that wastes that idea on generic direction, cheap scares, and a ludicrous twist ending.