Wednesday, 11 June 2014



M8! Hrrr flms rly n33d 2 gt w1th teh t1mes... Sorry. As I've mentioned before on this blog, horror and the internet have really struggled to find common ground. Partly because the internet is awash with it's own stomach churning controversies and accusations of corrupting youth. Film makers have always been one step behind, unable to match the explicit content which is at everyones fingertips and often the results are ridiculous as a result.
Smiley is an attempt to create a new slasher franchise and urban legend in one fell swoop. The story is based around a Chat-Roulette inspired website where people are connected with random strangers online. Stories start to circulate that if you type "I did it for the lulz" three times a mysterious character, who has sewn his eyes closed and carved his face to resemble a smiley emoticon, will appear and kill the person who was on the receiving end of the damning phrase. 

"Oh, yeah right. I'll just type it up
on my invisible typewriter.
Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) is a naive college student moving into an off campus house-share with the more world savvy Proxy (Melanie Papalia). An innocent young daddy's girl - Ashley is talked into attending a party arranged on an internet forum at which no-one knows any more about the other guests than the other their screen names. She meets a bunch of exiting and crazy new people, including a predictable love interest, as well as being introduced to the Smiley legend. Things play out in a predictable slasher movie fashion - full of pursuits, skeptical police and violent deaths a plenty. 

Surprisingly, considering the concept, Smiley is not bad. It's no work of genius, but it is a damn good stab (pun very much intended) at dragging horror into a less sci-fi constructed internet age. The problem is how restricted it is by the conventional slasher trappings. There is nothing here that strays from the rules and tropes parodied to death by the Scream franchise nearly two decades ago.
Drink three Bloody Mary's
whilst looking in a mirror...
just because.

In a clever twist, Smiley differs from urban legends like Bloody Mary and it's cinematic counterpart Candyman, because the moral of these are based around punishment. The kid foolish enough to call upon Bloody Mary in the mirror is attacked for being incredulous enough to take the legend's name in vain. Smiley however is a weapon, he attacks the innocent person on the receiving end with no repercussions for the attacker other than the guilt of murder by proxy. It is a good twist on the legend and one that fits the growing concern of online anonymity and accountability. It is trolling pushed its violent extremes. 

This underlying message is however spoiled by a conventional plot and cringeworthy central line. I mean "I did it for the lulz"? Seriously? I know it's trying to be down with the kids and all but it's impossible not to cringe when, in the middle of a serious conversation about a murder, somebody spouts that ludicrous line. The cast are really enjoyable, but even their surprisingly high level of talent can't deliver that phrase with any credibility. The rest of the film evolves around modern culture in a believable and casual way. A film made by the generation it is trying to appeal to, it doesn't feel like a corporation trying to awkwardly shoe horn in identifiable youth references. I even recognise a few of the actors from YouTube including Shane Dawson, Toby Turner and Steve Greene and they hold their own amongst the career actors brilliantly. 

Smiley had the potential to be the new generations horror classic. Scream, whether you liked it or not, worked because of its self referential approach to the genre. It broke apart the clich├ęs and should have changed horror from there on in. This film unfortunately ignores this and retreads the familiar old narrative paths. 

In order for the internet and cinema to truly coexist film-makers need to experiment with new narrative techniques. This fact is partly responsible for a lot of the found-footage flood which proves just how easy it is to have to much of a good thing. Smiley is just far too conventional to be as forward thinking as it aspires to be.

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