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With horror films having a knack for keeping up with current technology, the malevolent videocassettes of The Ring series have now given way to the perils of the internet. But the latest example of this burgeoning sub-genre, Smiley, is unfortunately less scary than, say, the prospect of your significant other accidentally discovering your search engine history.
This low-budget updating of themes endlessly exploited in the Candyman and Scream movies features the titular knife-wielding maniac, who looks like a grossly disfigured Mr. Potato Head, popping up to kill people on random chat rooms whenever the phrase “I did it for the lulz” is typed three times. If you don’t know what that internet slang expression means, you’re not this film’s target audience.
Summoning up the fiend with disturbing regularity is college freshman Ashley (Caitlin Gerard), so innocent that she clearly must have skipped a few grades. Having witnessed Smiley dispatch various victims on the web thanks to the prodding of her jaded roommate Proxy (Melanie Papalia), Ashley finds herself haunted in her nightmares, which provides director Michael Gallagher the opportunity to inject endless cheap scares into the proceedings.
Screenwriters Gallagher and Glasgow Phillips attempt to provide some philosophical weight to the otherwise generic storyline with frequent scenes in which an ethics professor (an amusingly snarky Roger Bart) lectures on the nature of good and evil and such principles as Occam’s razor. The latter theory provides some clues to the film’s eventual trick ending, which is–as usual for this sort of formulaic exercise–followed by yet another one paving the way for the inevitable sequel.
The youthful cast members have been encouraged to overact with abandon, especially in the climactic sequence that makes Lord of the Flies seem like neo-realism. Keith David provides some gravitas in the obligatory role of a skeptical detective, which only makes one wonder why this talented actor is so frequently wasted in such sub-standard fare.
Production: Level 10 Films
Cast: Caitlin Gerard, Melanie Papalia, Shane Dawson, Andrew James Allen, Liza Weil, Roger Bart, Keith David
Director: Michael Gallagher
Screenwriters: Michael Gallagher, Glasgow Phillips
Producers: Michael Wormser, Michael Gallagher
Executive producers: Elaine Gallagher, Michael Gallagher, Glasgow Phillips
Director of photography: Nicola Marsh
Editor: Zach Anderson
Production designer: Alec Contestabile
Costume designer: Adrienne Young
Composer: Dave Porter
Rated R, 95 min
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