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by Peter Sobczynski

"All Your Base Are Belong To--AIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!"
2 stars

The horror genre is so cluttered these days with rip-offs, remakes and brain-dead barf-o-ramas that it is tempting to give a film like "Smiley" a bit of a break because it makes the occasional stab at trying to do something different along with the expected ones aimed at the body parts of its cast. Alas, what modest ambitions it has to offer are quickly and decisively overwhelmed by the usual slasher movie nonsense and it soon becomes indistinguishable from the low-grade genre junk that it wants to improve upon. This is a bit of a shame because between the reasonably intriguing nature of its hook and the engaging performance at its center, I found myself sticking with it longer than I might otherwise have done in the hopes that it would eventually come together into the film that it wants to be instead of the one that it is.

The hook here is that there is supposedly an Internet-based urban legend about a faceless killer named Smiley that represents all the evil to be found on the web in one physical form and who lurks on the fringes of a popular chat room site in which everyone is anonymous--if you are chatting with someone and type "I did it for the lulz" three times, Smiley pops up out of nowhere and hacks the other person to bits. Of course, to participate in such an activity would be considered immoral to most right-thinking people but to the college kids that are the focus here, they think nothing of it--most of them just assume that it is as fake as most of what else can be found online and as for the rest, the anonymous nature of the chat room means that they don't know who they are condemning to death and therefore don't give a shit about them. Our heroine-with-a-troubled-past (Caitlin Gerard) tries it out early on and is consumed by guilt about what she has done, fear that Smiley really exists and worry that it may all be in her head.

The notion of fear somehow managing to manifest itself in physical form to torment people is not a bad one--indeed, it was the driving notion behind the great and still-underrated post-modern horror masterpiece "Wes Craven's New Nightmare." That movie worked because it not only had an ambitious idea at its core but also a filmmaker behind it talented enough to bring it to life in Wes Craven. "Smiley," on the other hand, is in the less-sure hands of co-writer/director Michael J. Gallagher and he never figures a way of approaching the material in the fresh manner that it deserves. Instead, we get the usual amalgamation of "BOO!" moments, red herrings and dream sequences that end up going nowhere and which are not even presented with the kind of flash or panache to distract viewers from recognizing that they are watching another helping of the same old thing despite the supposedly cutting-edge trimmings. There are also an unusual amount of overly talking scenes in which characters debate the concept of Smiley and observations about good, evil, ethics and morality ad nauseum until you actively begin rooting for Smiley to reappear and pare down the cast even further. The most frustrating aspect of the film is the big finale--without getting into specifics, it is, like the rest of the film, more ambitious than one might expect but, also like the rest of the film, it is just executed poorly and as a result, an ending that might have offered viewers a legitimate sting packs all the punch of a wet firecracker.

"Smiley" is a little better than most of the current crud clogging the horror genre--it certainly beats the overhyped "V/H/S" like a gong and the filmmakers have put more effort into their creation than most of their competitors. It even features a couple of better-than-expected performances from Caitlin Gerard as the heroine and Roger Bart as the ethics professor who gets to deliver the speeches in which all of the salient points are spelled out in detail for one and all to understand. Does it work? Not really. Could it have worked in the hands of more experienced filmmakers? Possibly--especially if they were allowed to take a couple of additional passes at the screenplay in order to smooth over the rough parts. Maybe in a few years, some enterprising filmmaker will do a remake that will keep the good stuff, jettison the bad and make the movie that "Smiley" clearly hoped to be in the first place.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24304&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/11/12 22:18:36
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  12-Oct-2012 (R)
  DVD: 12-Feb-2013


  DVD: 12-Feb-2013

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