FEARNET Movie Review: 'Smiley'


smileyAfter a number of years spent sifting through independently-produced horror movies of every size, shape, quality, and nationality, one starts to notice the little intangibles. Things like intent, effort, and passion -- and, on the other hand, stuff like laziness, cynicism, and outright plagiarism. One of the recent "discoveries" on my horror rounds was an American indie called Smiley that, oddly enough for such a tiny film, earned itself a small theatrical run a few months back, probably because the sales agent knew what s/he was doing. Michael J. Gallagher's monumentally uneventful slasher flick Smiley comfortably joins the ranks of films like Chain Letter, Blood Creek, and Creature: low-rent horror flicks that play theaters only so the DVD sales sheets can legally say "fresh off a successful theatrical run!"

Because not even the creators of Smiley could believe that a movie this woeful could pack any appreciable number of people into a movie theater.
The young Mr. Gallagher is to be congratulated, of course, for making a bona-fide movie that got a legitimate theatrical and DVD release, and one absolutely hopes that if he wanders into the horror department again, he's a little more interested in scaring people -- because Smiley is not only tediously familiar, aggressively dull, and simply slipshod in most of the important segments of filmmaking (like acting, for example, and lighting), it's even worse than that: it's the type of "let's make a horror movie, and hopefully a whole series, because those make money, and not because we actually know or love horror films by any significant measure" approach to low-budget laziness. 
It's as if Gallagher took some vague memories of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and grafted them on to the "technology turned eerie" template that was particularly popular in Japanese horror (and its countless American remakes) about twelve years ago. Meld that formless mass with a collection of harrowingly unappealing characters and a few slumming character actors who are asked to fill a lot more of the empty running time than they should, and you've got one of the worst ostensible horror films I've seen in years.
The plot is about a serial killer who somehow appears in video-chat rooms (whatever) and slaughters the viewer if the other party types a secret (very stupid) code into the chat box three times. (Read that twice and ask yourself who would bankroll this idea.) The director and his co-writers simply limp through a tiresome gamut of horror film tropes (including a killer with a nifty mask, which definitely helps to fill out a colorful DVD cover) with no regard to things like character development, pacing, tension, suspense, or even simple, nasty fun. One wishes that contributions from the likes of Roger Bart and Keith David could do something to alleviate the merciless tedium that Smiley subjects its audience to, but they're only human, and this flick is way beyond salvation from a pair of likable character actors.
To be honest, Smiley feels like a late-arriving film class homework assignment that the students didn't really care about. That might fly for chemistry, but keep it out of the horror movies.