Stop me if you've heard this one. We open in a suburban household, where a hot babysitter is having a conversation with the young girl she's looking after. The young damsel is on the internet, chatting to strangers online. They talk about the dangers of chat rooms and the pitfalls of cyber-stalking. The young girl tries to scare the hot babysitter with a myth about a masked man who preys on unsuspecting users. After a few obligatory ass shots, the babysitter is butchered to death by a monster called Smiley, so called because he stitched his own eyes shut before carving his mouth into a smile. Nice. Then we cut to the opening titles.
With Smiley, director Michael J. Gallagher isn't interested in bringing anything new to the table. He takes an attractive theme, both intriguing and current, and largely ignores it in favour of plot threads ripped from Candyman and Scream. At times you'll wonder whether you're watching a parody, but Gallagher's script isn't smart enough to be a parody, and any attempts at irony come across as smug and pretentious. They're not helped by a cast that includes some of the most annoying male stereotypes ever committed to film, including Zane (Andrew James Allen), Mark (Toby Turner), and Binder (Shane Dawson). The girls don't fare much better, but you won't feel the urge to punch them as much as you will the boys. Not until Caitlin Gerard starts to scream, at least.
Ashley (Gatlin) starts at a new college while getting over the death of her mother. She's clearly in a bad place, so we'll forgive her obvious lack of judgement when it comes to new friends. Her new housemate, Proxy (Melanie Papalia), convinces her to go to a party, and it's here that she learns of the urban legend. Smiley can only be seen on the web and is summonsed to kill people when the words "I did it for the lulz" are typed in three times. Sure enough, Ashley and her flatmate Proxy go online to test it out, with horrific results for all concerned. Ashley becomes increasingly paranoid, but is she really being stalked by a cyber-path, or is the death of her mother playing tricks on her fragile mind?
Smiley is the film's one true selling point. He's an ominous creation, creepy and sinister; a curious clown that deserves a better big screen outing than this. The advertising campaign makes the most of the fact, and one look at the demented cover art will provide some viewers with all the incentive they need. Five minutes in the company of Zane and his friends and you'll realise what a terrible mistake you've made. The acting is largely atrocious, and the characters they portray are unappealing goons. With the exception of Professor Clayton, brought to life by Hostel II's Roger Bart. The rest of the cast could learn a lot from him. Bart injects his wily professor with the perfect blend of smarts and charm.
Candyman for the Twitter generation might read like a great idea on paper, but in reality, Gallagher drops the ball big time. If you're going to make a horror movie, at least know a little something about the genre you're working in. How many times have we had to endure filmmakers that mistake jump cuts for true scares? There's zero tension, a complete lack of thrills and no connection with any of the token characters. It's conventional and clichéd, generic and dull. There are some nice ideas lingering beneath the surface, but Gallagher doesn't have the talent to bring them to life. His direction is lazy, uninspired and tepid, and as a result, Smiley drags its heels at a time when it should be running for dear life.
The ending is not without merit, and Smiley could yet have his day given the proper tutelage, but Gallagher should stay away from the horror genre. Psychological and philosophical intent is undercooked, as are the scares, and nothing about Smiley lives up to the sinister character art. When the advertising campaign offers longer lasting thrills than the film itself, you begin to question such a colossal waste of time. Dire. AW