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The Internet is the repository for all of humanity’s evil in Smiley, a half-cocked horror fiasco filled with clichés, pitiful dialogue, and clumsy aesthetics. Aping Scream from its opening moments, Michael J. Gallagher’s film concerns an urban legend known as Smiley, a figure with stitched-up eyes and grin who appears when people engaged in anonymous online chat sessions type the message “I did it for the lulz” three times. In other words, Smiley is a cyberspace rip-off of Candyman, and a poor one at that, magically appearing behind victims and slicing them up with lackluster proficiency.

The Smiley phenomena freaks out college freshman Ashley (Caitlin Gerard), a self-described “nerd” who, upon smoking pot with her wild new roommate, Proxy (Melanie Papalia), awkwardly announces, “I think I’m high on your marijuana.” That level of dialogue is indicative of Gallagher and Glasgow Phillips’s script, which doesn’t feature a single natural utterance throughout its 95 minutes, and which soon finds Ashley summoning Smiley and, after he does his lethal deed to some random stranger, fearing that he’s now going to come for her. Ashley just so happens to be a mentally unstable kook still grieving over her mother’s suicide, and thus Smiley takes great pains to couch her run-ins with the fiend as potential figments of her crazed imagination. This suggestion doesn’t create intrigue, though, because Ashley is such a grating dolt that it’s hard not to root for her demise.

Copious talk about chat rooms and hackers (i.e. “security professionals”) are complemented by intermittent lectures by professor Clayton (Roger Bart) about logic and reason that are peppered with references to Occam’s Razor and the Anthropic Principle. Such speeches speak to Ashley’s “Is it real?” crisis with a bluntness that also defines Gallagher’s direction, full of flat, awkward, and pedestrian shallow-focus compositions. Led by Gerard, the cast quips, fumes, and acts hysterical with self-consciousness amid locations that look like poorly dressed sets. As for Smiley, his overly round face and giant smirk make him seem more comical than terrifying.

That cyberspace is a haven for horrifying nihilism may be true, but Smiley isn’t even competent enough to come up with a good explanation for why such evil might manifest itself in such a goofily gimmicky fashion, and as a result it’s not long before one hopes Clayton is correct when, while confessing his pessimism about the human race to Ashley, he opines, “Everything is going to end.” End this third-rate film eventually does, but not before the obligatory twist and final sequel-baiting money shot, as well as a brief appearance by Keith David that, in eliciting pity for an actor working in material far beneath him, proves Smiley‘s saddest moment.

AMC Theaters
95 min
Michael J. Gallagher
Glasgow Phillips, Michael J. Gallagher
Caitlin Gerard, Melanie Papalia, Shane Dawson, Andrew James Allen, Roger Bart, Keith David