Opening in AMC theaters this weekend is Michael J. Gallagher’s Smiley, a new genre film that attempts to tap into modern technology. Unfortunately, the only thing it taps into is a wellspring of generic slasher tropes that mainstream horror fans will scoff throw popcorn at.
The movie follows Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) as a teenager (even though she looks 35-years-old) beginning college. She soon meets her roommate, Proxy (Melanie Papalia, whom also looks 35-years-old), who takes her to parties on the seemingly empty campus. There, they meet a bunch of douchebags (who all look 35-years old and have super fancy hair) that act like complete *******s for absolutely no reason. All of these horrible guys and unlikeable “teenage” girls continue to run into each other as they explore the myth of Smiley, a killer who appears in a Candyman-like fashion. In their version of Chatoulette, if you say “I did it for the lulz” (lulz means “laughs”) 3 times, Smiley will appear behind the person they’re talking to and murder them. And then, supposedly, he will come after you.
The premise is actually pretty sweet, so the failure comes in the actual execution of the film. Smiley isn’t scary because it doesn’t feel real – the kids are all 30+ years old, the campus is usually empty, and there’s a plethora of weird character dialogue (like when a girl states: “I just smoked pot, did that come out right?” Or, after one night, the protagonist’s father tells his daughter that she can quit college, something NO parent would ever do). Even the fun “party” montage feels incredibly forced and lame (it shows like 2 drinks and the guys drawing on a kid’s face. That’s every party, right? Barf).
The film’s believability also comes into question when most of Smiley’s appearances come in dream sequences. Yes, dream sequences. Smiley continues to attack the girl in her dreams, yet she’s convinced it’s real. Outside of Smiley, the filmmakers fill in chunks of emptiness with an assault of lame fake scares. Ultimately, everything the viewer sees in the movie isn’t actually scary.