Smiley represents a paradigm shift from the old school, exclusive way of making films, to the new media template forged by websites like YouTube and Blip.tv. This movie is the result of Michael Gallagher parlaying his success with “Totally Sketch” into a film deal. That means this movie was not concocted behind closed doors by some studio snobs who all go skiing together. Instead, it was made by the people for the people. And it shows.
Cameos by the who’s who of the internet world abound, including Bree Essrig and Nikki Limo - familiar faces from Totally Sketch. Also, the characters who round off this cast of internet misfits feels more authentic than if you had forty-something executives guessing at it. For example, the actors in the first party scenes come in all shapes, sizes and colors and something about it just rings more true - not like the plastic-y, overly glammed actors you might see in something like Scream 4.
Smiley explores the urban legend of a stitch-faced killer who magically appears behind the unlucky victim of a video chat where the other person types “I did it for the lulz” three times. Ashley, played very nicely by Caitlin Gerard (I’ll always remember her as the girl Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker were ogling in “The Social Network” ) moves in with Proxy, spritely embodied by actress Melanie Papalia, as they start college. Proxy immediately introduces the naive Caitlin to the world of the underground interwebz - 4chan message boards, hackers, network security specialists, etc. - and takes her to a party where a number of LA-based members from an anonymous board are all socializing under their online nicknames. While there, Ashly, Proxy and a few others parses off from the crowd and put the smiley legend to the test in real time. To everyone’s surprise, especially Ashley, it works. Enter victim number one.
From there, the usual slasher flick type story unfolds. More people die while our protagonist wonders if she is imagining it all or if Smiley is real. The acting is solid in this movie, especially the leads. Andrew James Allen is especially good. I haven’t seen an asshole character this likable since Seann William Scott’s Stiffler from American Pie. The story is also intriguing and there is a meditative element brought out through classroom scenes where the teacher explores themes played out in the movie. I also liked the notion that all the evil brought about through the web has come into being through Smiley.
The biggest issue with this movie is, ironically, the lack of studio polish in terms of the look of the film. It just isn’t very pleasant visually - zero production design. But it is actually scary in parts, which gives it a leg up on most horror films produced these days. One appearance by Smiley toward the end of the film is especially unnerving. Let me just put it this way: you probably won’t be typing “I did it for the lulz” anytime soon in a chat room. Mission accomplished.