January 11, 2013 (VOD)
Michael J. Gallagher, Glasgow Phillips
Michael J. Gallagher
Caitlin Gerard as Ashley
Melanie Papalia as Proxy
Shane Dawson as Binder
Andrew James Allen as Zane
Michael J. Gallagher’s slasher Smiley appears to be a new hope for an inaugural subgenre ace. But is Smiley the promising psycho slasher we’re hoping for, or another cliche film with no sense of originality?
Michael J. Gallagher’s slasher Smiley appears to be a new hope for an inaugural subgenre ace. Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving. Just as William Brent Bell’s, The Devil Inside failed to reignite the flames of found footage cinema,Smiley fails to proffer anything redeeming to the slasher branch of the terror tree. It’s a damn shame as well, because the visage of this antagonist looks ridiculously cool.
All the same, Smiley works for a few really, really cheap thrills, but succeeds in very few other areas. The problem with the picture isn’t so much Gallagher’s directing, as it is the pretentiousness of the script and the inconsistency of the production’s performers. This is a simple, well-trodden trek that anyone who’s seen a handful of slashers knows all too well. We’ve got an urban legend that just so happens to mirror (pardon the pun) the basis of the old Bloody Mary trope, with a slight spin thatshould appeal to contemporary audiences… except, it’s not creative enough to really trigger any significant admiration. Instead of popping out of a mirror a la the aforementioned Mary, or the popular Candyman, the titular killer, Smiley, surfaces in the presence of his victims as they chat (a pathetic little saying must be repeated three times to summon the monster) via webcam. It’s an idea that would have worked quite well ten to twelve years ago, but flicks like Untraceable, FearDotCom, and Pulse (to name just a few) have already toyed with the concept. And if Gallagher had hoped to make a statement on this dead horse, or poke fun at the cliche, he failed to do so. To counter that general lack of creativity, Gallagher and co-scribe Glasgow Phillips attempt to add a psychological layer to the tale that feels profoundly contrived. The fact that the cast as a whole is so erratic doesn’t help the idea of some greater importance, or higher function at work.
While the cast is on the chopping block, the air should be cleared: Melanie Papalia and Shane Dawson, who portray Proxy and Binder, respectively, are both extremely adequate performers. They sell their awkward personalities quite well. Proxy’s a spunky little thing with a knack for the party life, and Binder’s a nerd of the grandest order. As a viewer, it’s easy to believe these two. The obstacle these two contend with are the counter’s to both: female lead Caitlin Gerard and the obvious asshole of the ensemble, Andrew James Allen (Ashley and Zane). These two just fall short, and for two completely different reasons. See, Allen is quite convincing as the picture’s super douche bag. There’s no problem in picking up on that, he’s a sound actor, it’s the fact that his character was written so one-dimensionally that makes it impossible to like the guy on any level (it isn’t impossible to pull for the bully, as Jake weary proved in Altitude), and his work in front of the cameras goes stale after you’ve seen the guy pull a handful of the same lame bully maneuver a half dozen times. Allen jumped into a role that deserved 10 minutes of screen time, not 90. Ashley in contrast is a character to despise because Gerard just can’t seem to reel things in and tighten up her delivery. She’s all over the place, jumping from one extreme to the other, and always too extreme for the sequence at hand. A refined thespian could have delivered a respectable showing in these shoes, because Ashley’s actually a well layered character with some substance to back up her looks. But Caitlin is simply not in complete control of her talent yet. There’s a good actress behind those pretty eyes, she just needs quite a few more years and a handful of challenging roles to help bring her into her professional prime.
You won’t be surprised by the film’s “shocking revelation” (actually read those exact words in a review a few weeks ago, although I can’t recall precisely what outlet made such an astounding declaration), as it’s quite predictable. In fact, there really aren’t any true red herring’s introduced in the film, it’s cut and dried: either Smiley is indeed a real force of supernatural evil with nothing better to do than kill computer nerds, or someone’s into one elaborate setup. After the primary characters are introduced, it isn’t too tough to foresee the final outcome. And the twist, after the twist, arrives just as you expect it to, and feels like little more than rehashed rendition of the old “watch out, the killer isn’t dead” gimmick.
Smiley could have been a new, memorable film and a face of horror to discuss at length. But a film this shoddy won’t secure him any longevity. In fact, I’d be really, really surprised if this one managed to inspire even a single sequel.