Smiley is a modern, digital spin on the old boogeyman urban legends. Here are the rules. If a person is online, and in a video chat, they type in a certain phrase three times, and the killer shows up and kills the person on the webcam. If it was just a legend, we wouldn’t have a movie, so naturally, he makes a quick appearance before viewers are saddled with anything important like a plot.
The college year is beginning, and Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) meets her new housemate, Proxy (Melanie Papalia). Ashley is the total girl next door, playing the straight man to her pot smoking, party happy roomie. They hit their first party together and meet the eccentric Zane (Andrew James Allen). They also meet introvert Binder (Shane Dawson), who gets kicked out of the party because he actually has morals.
The party goers overdo it, and Ashley shows up late to her first class on ethics, taught by Professor Clayton (Roger Bart (The Producers)). The girls reconvene and make the dumb college kid decision – in order to prove Smiley is fake, they go online, chat with a stranger, and type the dreaded catch phrase. Smiley makes his appearance, and the game is on. Now that they know he’s real, how do they keep themselves alive? How does his know where his victims are? Why does he do what he does? Who can they tell? Who will believe them?
Smiley gets really broad in its second act, with the college kids chasing every theory from the supernatural to hackers. Zane goes major league paranoid. Ashley goes looking for help from every source she can, from the professor’s theory of evolution to Binder’s idea of him being the personification of evil thoughts.
Director Michael Gallagher sends plenty of potential hints out about who Smiley might be, mixing a personal note in with all the scientific theory. Is he after Ashley for a reason? Is she just plain crazy? Both? Gallagher and co-writer Glasgow Phillips put out enough red herrings to keep most viewers chasing bread crumbs before revealing the big bad. Still, no good slasher movie is complete without co-eds making stupid decisions, and Smiley has its own share of those.
Smiley is a Candyman for the modern, hyper-connected teenager. It’s a social media (and social science) application of the campside ghost story.
Bart really embraces his role as Professor Clayton and holds court in the classroom scenes. His lectures drive Ashley to question everything and keep the movie going forward. Gerard has a perfect smile, and she plays the new kid well. Keith David (Pitch Black) is great as the sarcastic police detective.
Bonus features include theatrical trailers (Greystone Park, Hell, The Frozen), really bloody outtakes, a gag reel, and a funny (if not informative) audio commentary track with Shane Dawson, Roger Bart and Michael Gallagher.
The film runs 96 minutes with Dolby 5.1 audio.