You can’t help but wonder when a film was originally written when even being released in 2013 the main character doesn’t own a car and relies on a slider phone she can barely text on. Not to mention the dated references to urban legends, online chatting, The Truman Show, Punk’d, Skynet from the Terminator series, MacBooks, and so many red herrings the ending becomes a ludicrous disaster. But at least it makes one thing my friend pointed at while watching it — without giving anything away, the killer is supposed to be an incarnation of evil yet it sure looks an awful lot like someone wearing a mask most of the time.
The new horror movie Smiley is destined for the bargain bin. From co-writer/director Michael J. Gallagher, feels like it was hastily written way back in the mid-’90s then rewritten when Gallagher finally found his financing. Even the DVD cover art is in the blatant style of Scream, Urban Legend, Valentine, etc. It’s not even that Smiley is horribly made (I’ve seen way worse in theaters); it’s just so dated already.
Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) has just arrived at college where Dad (Billy St. John, a low-rent Gary Busey if there ever was one) drops her off to live with Proxy (Melanie Papalia) who’s renting a room in a house her parents can’t sell. That night, Proxy talks Ashley into hitting the “Anonymous Party” at Zane’s (Andrew James Allen) house. Before you know it, we find out that Stacy (Nikki Limo), the girl killed by “Smiley” (Michael Traynor) in the opening sequence, was killed by Zane and his friends after typing “I did it for the lulz” three times, ala Bloody Mary. They all assure Ashley that it’s just a prank and there’s no way the girl can really be dead because no one’s even found her body. (See what kind of logic we’re dealing with here?)
Eventually, Ashley unleashes Smiley upon a random chat-roulette victim and starts to investigate whether Smiley is real or not. Meanwhile, Ashley starts to question her own reality since she’s been off her meds (lithium) for six months which she was prescribed after being diagnosed as bipolar after the death of her mother. Is Smiley just an urban legend and a huge internet prank or is he really chasing Ashley across campus and stalking her dreams Freddy Kruger style?
None of it really matters as the end is a huge cop-out as Gallagher and co-writer Glasgow Phillips dig themselves deeper and deeper into a whodunit of who cares proportions. Especially given the fact that they think they have something to say about the internet age but it’s nothing we didn’t hear 10 years ago. How they managed to talk Keith David to show up as a detective is beyond me but at least he seems to be having fun, along with Roger Bart as the ethics professor – one of the way too many red herrings.
The whole movie isn’t the worst cobbled together thing ever. Although, there is the cliché overabundance of characters that can’t see beyond their peripheral vision, this being a horror movie, it’s all part of the game. Some scenes seem like they were looped in post-production but probably sound worse than had they used the original recording and also wind up being out of sync. The ending is the biggest disaster of the whole thing which definitely kills any reason to see the film. The only thing that would make things interesting is if a DVD reviewer were to type out “I did it for lulz” three times to see if anything happens to the filmmakers. Just kidding…
Smiley is released in an anamorphic 2.35: 1 ratio and looks pretty crisp for DVD. I never expect to be blown away with a DVD transfer, but it looked pretty nice upconverted on my Samsung 3D Blu-ray player. Blacks were never overwhelming and shadows never appeared too muted. The 5.1 Dolby Digital served its purpose far more in the sense of surround effects and music, the dialogue is a huge mess however, sounding flat and muffled for the most part. At least I didn’t have to crank the volume up to hear what was being said, even if none of it was really worth paying attention to anyway.
The included special features are a set of surprisingly boring “Gory Outtakes” and a Gag Reel both clock in at just barely over two minutes each. There’s also a commentary featuring Gallagher with cast members Shane Dawson and Roger Bart. The commentary is more entertaining than the movie, whodathunkit. There is also a trailer for the main feature, along with already available Arc Entertainment releases Greystone Park, Hell, and The Frozen (which appeared dead set on cramming as many horror movie rip offs as possible into 90 seconds). Another upcoming film called Riddle, starring Val Kilmer, is available on DVD February 19.
If you’re looking for a good ol’ horror fixing, I suppose you could do far worse. I’m not sure the weather was worth the trip for my friend who joined me to watch this. Just know there’s absolutely nothing in Smiley you didn’t see in the ’90s — and those movies did it far better.
Cover art and photo courtesy Arc Entertainment