Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #172
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 12 October 2012
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Michael J. Gallagher
Producer: Michael Wormser
Screenplay: Ezra Cooperstein, Michael J. Gallagher, Glasgow Phillips
Special Effects: Greg McDougall
Cinematography: Nicola Marsh
Score: Dave Porter
Editing: Zach Anderson
Studio: Level 10 Films, Andrew E. Freedman Public Relations (Publicity)
Distributor: AMC Theatres, Anderson Digital, Signature Entertainment
Stars: Caitlin Gerard, Melanie Papalia, Shane Dawson, Andrew James Allen, Liza Weil, Toby Turner, Roger Bart, Keith David, Patrick O’Sullivan, Nikki Limo, Jason Horton, Bree Essrig, Darrien Skylar and Michael Traynor as Smiley
Suggested Audio Candy
Clever Pie & Isabel Fay “Thank You Hater!”
There is no such thing as bad press. For a small indie horror flick produced for a modest amount, any exposure is good exposure. Ask Michael J. Gallagher, whose 2012 slasher throwback has amassed over thirty million trailer views online since its first appearance. Interestingly, this hasn’t been reflected in sales but, regardless, that is no mean feat. It uses chat-roulette sites 4chan and Anonymous as the backdrop for its carnage and Gallagher reportedly received numerous death threats for choosing to hone in on these renowned trolling sites.
Before the end of my tenure as an informal educator I ran a course at a local secondary school about cyber-bullying and its effects. This was designed to heighten awareness and included kids who had been on both ends of the abuse so as to spark discussion and enable them to gain the bigger picture. Thus, a film such as Smiley holds particular appeal to me and I admire Gallagher for having the cojones to tackle such an objectionable current trend. Maybe his thinking was a little colder, perhaps his film is an exercise in the shameless utilization of internet technology to give a contemporary edge over its stablemates. Whatever his intentions were, it worked a treat and Smiley’s non-existent ears have been burning with constancy, affording him a limited theatrical run along the way.
Somewhat ironically, a smear campaign was launched against Gallagher’s picture which has led to an unprecedented mauling on aggregate sites where, at the time of writing, Smiley holds a feeble 3.5/10 average. Perhaps more disparaging is the critical response, with many reviews taking the harshest exception to its existence and lambasting it on every conceivable front. Enter Keeper, with underwear outside my thermals and crest emblazoned across my chest. I listen not to tittle-tattle and form my analysis based on my own findings. It is the reason why I never read critics’ remarks before setting off and, instead, catch up with the lowdown on the flip side. The film was ripped to ribbons and, whereby we all have our own individual opinions and variables, someone needs to balance the scales. That someone is me and it has been a no-brainer. After all, I did it for the lulz.
Our cyber-story focuses on Ashley (Caitlin Gerard), an emotionally uneven young college student who, following the untimely death of her mother, attempts to fit in at her new campus. She befriends the effervescent Proxy (Melanie Papalia) and is soon introduced to the seedier side of chat room networking as she learns the trending urban legend of Smiley. This bankable death puppet apparently needs only see the words “I did it for the lulz” in a chat-feed to slink in behind the recipient and gut them like the proverbial swine. This invariably leads to parallels with Bernard Rose’s Candyman as he shows up on command bloody Mary-style and does his foul business, while the other party gets to go voyeur at the other end of their pixelated webcam.
Wes Craven’s Scream is another flick from which Gallagher draws his influence and this is evident in his group hug marketing campaign which sees all the main players looking with sobriety towards the camera à la I Know What You Did Last Summer, Final Destination and the droves of other copycat teen horror-dramas which have flooded the market post-Screamgate. To get the most from his admittedly flawed lightweight slasher that’s the kind of mindset one needs to adopt. This knows its demographic and steers toward it without subtlety. Your experience is ultimately going to depend on whether or not you can suspend disbelief for ninety minutes and look at its cognitive implications from your own subjective standpoint.
One criticism which has been leveled at Gallagher is that his protagonists are universally insufferable and, to this, I have two responses. Firstly, since when has that been pre-requisite for a film such as this? Scream, Urban Legend, Final Destination – name more than a handful of co-eds from all three entire sequences combined who you wouldn’t take a claw hammer to given the chance. Secondly, we’re dealing with a rather seedy underbelly here, guys with mantles such as Pedobear. Being an all-round great guy or gal ain’t gonna win you many plaudits in Troll-topia.
Having said that, I found both female leads to be far more than capable. Papalia is all B-girl swagger and Proxy offers the perfect foil to Gerard’s straight-laced Ashley who begins to question her own mental balance and does well keeping us invested, regardless of any stilted dialogue. In addition, there are wonderful turns from the distinguished Roger Bart (Hostel Part II, Excision and The Midnight Meat Train) and Rowdy Roddy Piper’s brawl buddy, the legendary Keith David, who is perfectly suited to the hyena-like misanthropist detective of the piece. The former also effortlessly endears himself as the reflective Professor Clayton and he coolly steals every single last scene he is in.
As for Smiley, this harbinger of doom is perfectly faceless. With carved out peeper holes and a fashioned smile, he really does look the business. Alas, the fact that he appears like corrosive clockwork at the mere mention of the lulz hampers the tension as long drawn-out chase sequences are not something in his repertoire. Instead Gallagher relies on poking us with a cattle prod with the kind of cued-up jolts that we have long become accustomed to. Having said that, the first such jump actually caused me to leap like a gay salmon so I guess there’s some credence in his approach.
By delving into Ashley’s rapidly declining mental state it affords itself the opportunity of padding out its duration with the usual apparitions and phantasms and this keeps the pace reasonably spritely. By the time we reach our eventual reveal it actually makes sense in a knowingly nonsensical way and succeeds in creating a talking point. Love it or loathe it, you will find yourself discussing your hypothesis and I’m positive this is what Gallagher was aiming at when bringing this baby to the screen. No reinvention of the wheel, questionable if you choose to question, however Smiley contains just enough lulz to outweigh its lulls.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Call me a sicko but this is one area that Smiley seems to have missed a trick with. The dispatches are lightning fast and over before they start which, given the fact that trolls are a bunch of lingering lowlifes, just doesn’t revel enough in the red sauce for my liking.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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