October 13, 2012

Smiley (2012)

"After discovering an urban legend on 4chan's /b/ board of a demented serial killer that has nothing but a carved 'smiley' on his face, Ashley, a mentally fragile teen, must decide whether she is going insane, or is the next victim."

Every so often I'm forced to watch a horror movie directed by someone I've never heard of and starring a load of people I've never heard of either. Sometimes it's a necessity for writing this blog, but occasionally I just do it for the lulz. Thus, when the chance came to see a movie about a supernatural serial killer on the internet who does it "for the lulz" too, I was intrigued.

Apart from Roger Bart (formerly the creepy pharmacist who fancied Bree in "Desperate Housewives" as well as one of the sickos in "Hostel 2") and Keith David, I honestly have no idea who any of the other cast members are, whether or not they are real actors or YouTube wannabes, or anything other than a vague recognition of a couple of their names.

Allegedly, one of the cast members is named Toby Turner, and he's big on YouTube for something, but I couldn't even tell you what he looks like or who he plays. Shane Dawson is more obvious as I've seen his picture floating about on the internet before yet have never watched even one of his YouTube videos either. From his limited acting ability in "Smiley", I probably never want to. As a non-actor, he isn't that bad, but he's a lot older, hairier, fatter and uglier than I thought a popular YouTube children's entertainer would be. His character name of "Pedobear" might be an in-joke based on his fanbase of 12-14 year olds. If there's something more to it than that, I didn't understand it.

In case I start to sound too negative, let me just say that I didn't hate "Smiley" or anyone involved in it. In fact, I really liked it as a "meta" movie about internet trolling. We all love to troll "teh interwebz", don't we? Imagine if the misery we like to inflict on others with our keyboards could manifest itself in physical form and you get the premise behind "Smiley". I thought that was kind of great.

I can haz cheezburger now? Oops, wrong meme.

Even though "Smiley" first appears to be little more than a ripoff of "Candyman" and the "Bloody Mary" urban myths, it's actually a bit cleverer than that. With a couple of twists at the end, although derivative of "Scream", "April Fool's Day" and "Urban Legend", "Smiley" is quite successful (yet overambitious) in what it sets out to achieve. As a horror movie though, maybe not so much.

It's probably not going to win any awards for originality, scares or gore, but it's still a decent looking movie with good production values, not too many lags, and only a few moments of dodgy camerawork. Unlike the current slew of "found footage" crap, there's certainly no need to take any dramamine before watching "Smiley" unless the jealousy that someone who you don't think deserves it has managed to get their horror movie released theatrically makes you nauseous.

Of course, "Smiley" has some flaws especially in the dialogue which may be a tad too unnatural for most people's ears. If people on the West Coast really speak to each other like that, they need slapping. It's a debut feature by somebody just out of film school, Michael J. Gallagher, who has been lucky enough to be able to make it so you have to make allowances. As much as I will always bash the talentless handycam brigade with their backyard "zombedy" epics, "Smiley" doesn't fall into the same category. It looks like it had a fairly decent budget for one thing, and there's obviously some technical ability behind the scenes.

The killer actually looks pretty good too. I think he'll be a poster on a few people's walls before too long especially if this becomes a franchise. As ever, the characterisation doesn't have much depth to it, and quite a few of the characters are instantly dislikeable, but that's always a bonus for a jaded movie reviewer looking for something to write about. For those people who loathe Shane Dawson's antics as a YouTube money whore, seeing him get his comeuppance is a nice piece of wish fulfilment which will most certainly drive his haters to this film only to be quite surprised.

To give more credit where it is most certainly due, Caitlin Gerard, who plays Ashley, is highly watchable and gives an outstanding performance. Looks-wise, she isn't my cup of tea although I'm sure the intended audience will find her incredibly hot. If I have a type, it's not mental, skinny blondes who scream, cry a lot and smash their laptops to pieces, but to each their own.

I'll take the one on the right, please.

Ashley's brunette friend, Proxy (stupid name but whatever), is sensationally gorgeous. Melanie Papalia is her real name (in case you wondered), and having looked it up, I think it's one to remember. Although I'm torn between her and Nikki Limo (who plays a babysitter at the start) for the "best looking chick in the movie" award, she definitely made "Smiley" more enjoyable for me. She can really act too, and I can't wait to see her in more movies.

As I said right at the beginning, "Smiley" is full of unknown actors, actresses and YouTube "stars" who you either may or may not recognise. The only big YouTuber who I've ever watched regularly is iJustine and, unfortunately, she isn't in this. That was a missed opportunity and a bit of a shame. If she had been in it, maybe the "real critics" wouldn't have been so harsh about "Smiley". Having accidentally read the titles of their critiques, I wonder if we've even watched the same film because I enjoyed it. Although everyone has an opinion, most internet critics aren't honest and a lot have become negative just to stir up controversy and more pageviews. The irony of that in reference to the subject matter of "Smiley" won't escape anyone.

Without checking, I can almost guarantee that Bloody-Disgusting, Dread Central and Ain't It Cool News will be overpraising "Smiley" as the second-coming in horror movie form just to get their names on the DVD artwork. Unless, of course, they didn't get a kickback (in which case they'll be hating it too). "Smiley" is a good film, but please take their nonsense with a huge pinch of salt. Better yet, ignore it altogether if you don't want the hype to spoil it for you.

If you love the internet, like to hang out in video chatrooms or just generally surf YouTube, you'll get a lot of entertainment out of "Smiley". It's not ideal for the older generation or hardcore horror aficionados, but if you are lucky enough to have it playing in a movie theatre near you at the moment, I encourage you to check it out... for the lulz. =)

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