As presented to us in an effective Scream-like prologue (watch for a blatant error), urban legend has it that if online vid-chatters type “i did it for the lulz” three times, the poor bastard on the other end of the chat window will be murdered by Smiley, a stab-happy serial killer who immediately pops up behind him or her.
This causes as much guilt as it does fright for Ashley (Caitlin Gerard, Magic Mike), a gawky, semi-dorky college girl trying to live a little after the suicide of her mother. She and her moral-corrupting roomie, Proxy (Melanie Papalia, Super Hybrid), test the validity of the rumor, and wish they hadn’t.
Ashley becomes so convinced that Smiley is coming for her, and seeks help from the Disbelieving Policeman (Keith David, Cloud Atlas), the All-Knowing Professor (Roger Bart, Hostel: Part II) and the Sympathetic Shrink (Liza Weil, TV’s Scandal) — all to no avail — before realizing she’ll have to face her fears … unless she’s imagining the whole thing.
The freshman feature of young director Michael J. Gallagher, the competent indie Smiley is better than the recent big-studio remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, which the film closely resembles — especially with the pharmaceutical angle — and whose baddie it references by name.
As played mute and menacing by Michael Traynor (A Necessary Death), the character of Smiley is a terrific horror-movie villain. His stitched-smile visage is inherently creepy, so unlike other films’ attempts at creating the next fright-film icon, I can see Smiley’s antics causing nightmares among more fragile viewers.
He deserves a better showcase, however. Gerard makes for a bland Final Girl, but at least you want to see survive, which is more than can be stated for the remainder of the cast. The ending is a cheat, even by the logic the film establishes upfront, so the taste you’re left with is more bitter than sweet. —Rod Lott
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