My biggest beef with Smiley originated before I’d even slid it into my DVD player. This may sound petty, but the idea of a banner across the cover in bold typeface screaming “over 30 million trailer views” strikes me as lame desperation. What’s next? “Over 30 million page visits on Netflix (but ultimately only 6 people decided to watch it)”.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. There’s an urban legend about some dude, and if some specific thing is done three times then he appears. Sound familiar? In this case however we’ve got an online twist in the shape of those pesky anonymous internet chatrooms. The story goes that if you’re on said forum and you type “I did it for the lulz” (seriously) three times, then the demented killer ‘Smiley’ appears and butchers your fellow chat partner to death.
After a Scream-esque opening sequence we’re introduced to Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) who is about to embark on a new term in college and is sharing a house with Proxy (Melanie Papalia). The first evening after moving in is spent at a party where the cocksure host Zane tells Ashley – who’s seemingly the last person on earth to find out – about this notorious urban legend. Ashley of course is horrified, but with this being an exercise in predictable horror, it’s not long before she’s sat in front of a laptop with her friend Proxy and typing “I did it for the lulz” three times. Smiley appears, butchers the poor guy in the cam chatroom, and we’re left with two very horrified college students.
Proxy seems able to brush this event off, but Ashley being a more conscientious girl is more disturbed by what she’s witnessed and begins to investigate the origins of the Smiley legend. The further she digs, the more obsessive she becomes about Smiley. It’s not long before she’s having vivid dreams where the evil killer is chasing her, only to wake up and find some of her clothing ripped. Evil killers in vivid dreams? That’d be a great idea for a horror film.
Smiley epitomises everything that’s bad about the horror genre. It takes 30 years of great iconic ideas from films like Nightmare On Elm Street, Candyman and Scream and attempts to dress them up as its own. It’s not even a homage, as the definition of homage underlines the use of respect.
The most worrying aspect of Smiley is the fact that I know I’ll have a crowd of 16 year old kids begging to rent it from my video store this week. With a striking cover, a simple title and a plot revolving around the internet its tailor made for that age group – hell, I’d probably be renting it myself at that age. From a critics point of view though, and to use the excellent phrase by Nigel Floyd, its cattle-prod horror. Unoriginal, poorly paced, devoid of atmosphere and peppered with smug, arrogant college students that you hope will get slaughtered, it’s a long ninety minutes. I went to YouTube just to confirm the cover’s boast about trailer views and lo and behold they were right. I also noticed below it that comments have been disabled. I wonder why…. ?
3 out of 10