“I did it for the lulz. I did it for the lulz. I did it for the lulz.” If this were the world of Smiley, a deliciously silly exercise in cyber-horror, everyone reading this review would be dead right now. A chilling thought, no? Co-writer/director Michael J. Gallagher seems convinced that it is, repeating that line like an urban legend mantra on par with saying “Candyman” three times into a mirror. As Caitlin Gerard, a just-off-the-turnip-truck freshman at Generic University discovers, if users of a ChatRoulette-style service type that line into the chat box three times, the person on the other end will be gutted by “Smiley,” a goon in a freaky mask of the Ghostface-in-Scream variety. Is it a prank? Is it real? Would smashing her cursed laptop help?
It’s strange to describe Smiley as a non-parodic Scream, since that would mean it’s like the movies Scream is parodying, but the films have too many other things in common, from the Halloween-mask killer to the whodunit slasher plotting to a catchphrase intended to send audiences into a Pavlovian freak-out. They’re both really funny, too, but most of Smiley’s laughs come from Gerard’s harrowing odyssey, which she processes with alternating looks of babe-in-the-woods naïveté and the jumpiness of a feral cat. Everyone she meets is a suspect, starting with Melanie Papalia as her brazen housemate and the clique of obnoxious guys who gather on an anonymous online bulletin board for sick jokes, memes, and, you know, lulz. There’s also the creepy/sensitive outcast of the boards and a professor (Roger Bart) who appears to hold his students in perhaps murderous contempt.
Though the great character actor Keith David turns up briefly to raise an eyebrow at the whole ridiculous scenario, only Bart makes much of an impression for delivering the most dramatic, sinister reading of “I did it for the lulz” imaginable. Gallagher briefly threatens to turn Smiley into something closer to the hallucinatory psychological horror of Repulsion, but he retreats to the more conventional twists and jump-scares expected of bottom-of-the-barrel slasher films like this one. This film will not do for the Internet what Psycho did for showers—no more computers have to be smashed because of it.