Trolling for Horrors
by Glenn Lovell
Freddy Krueger and Jigsaw can rest easy. They needn’t fear for their place in the horror pantheon. The blood-smeared Smiley, who sports a shrunken-head look (eyes, mouth sewn shut) is a sock-puppet boogeyman, a low-rent knockoff of Candyman and Ghostface.
Someone tags this masked maniac who creeps up behind his victims “the first viral serial killer.”
In your dreams ‒ rather, nightmares — Smiley Face!
Cobbling together elements from just about ever recent slasher entry ‒ but most notably “Candyman” and “Scream” ‒ YouTube transplant Michael J. Gallagher has come up with a doggedly formulaic freshman effort. “Smiley” is not, as the promo has it, “the new face of fear.” Where it (almost) shines is in the acting. Caitlin Gerard (“Magic Mike”) gives her all as the new girl on campus. Her Ashley is laughably gullible. She’s also ripe for a nervous breakdown and, therefore, not always the best judge of what’s happening. “Is this real or am I just going crazy?” she asks on more than one occasion.
Melanie Papalia is the always-game roomie who pops up unexpectedly far too often; Shane Dawson, Gallagher’s sketch comedy partner, plays a dorky student who’s ripe for ridicule; and Andrew James Allen is the fast-talking, misanthropic party host. He reminded me of the androgynous Z-Man in “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”
Roger Bart steals his every scene as Ashley’s ethics prof, who’s at once smarmy and nihilistic. Because he pegs humankind as “the perfect suicide machine,” we peg him as a prime suspect in the Internet knifings, sparked a la “Candyman” by typing the line “I did it for the lutz” three times.
The problem with “Smiley” ‒ distributed by American Multi-Cinemas ‒ is that there are too many tightly framed faux shocks (half of which involve Papalia) and nothing remotely original. Think of it as a grade-C calling card for Gallagher, who may show us something once he gets a reasonable budget.
Note: This film has gone out unrated to save the filmmakers the tariff that comes with submitting your handiwork to the MPAA. Horror aficionados expecting another unrated “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” or “Human Centipede” will be in for a shock. Had the producers purchased a rating, it would have been R for routine.
SMILEY1/2 With Caitlin Gerard, Andrew James Allen, Melanie Papalia, Shane Dawson. Directed Michael J. Gallagher; scripted by Gallagher, Glasgow Phillips. 90 minutes. Unrated (could be R for violence and gruesome makeup effects)