Smiley (2012)

Smiley (2012)

Evil wears a smile

After discovering an urban legend of a demented serial killer called Smiley who comes to kill unsuspecting online chatters after they type in ‘I did it for the lulz’ three times, mentally-fragile teenager Ashley must figure out if she has gone insane or whether she has become the next victim when she puts the legend to the test.

 

A slasher film about a chat room serial killer? What is this, 1997? By 2012, Smiley was already outdated before it was made. I guess the director never saw Cry Wolf, which is basically this film but made in 2005. The latest version of an urban legend horror story with a ‘contemporary’ twist – say the name of some mythical boogeyman and they magically appear to kill the person daft enough to speak – Smiley is some stewed up concoction of Candyman, Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street, with only a fraction of the entertainment value of any of those three.

Starting in cliched, but admittedly promising fashion, with drop-dead gorgeous Nikki Limo parading in front of the camera in very little (if this had been the 80s…) before being diced by Smiley, the film quickly veers well away what you expected it would be into something more moralistic and preachy about online trolling and the damage it can do. It follows a simple narrative where the two leading females try to get to the bottom of the urban legend whilst Smiley pops up every once and a while to kill another victim. That’s it, a rinse and repeat story which quickly outstays its welcome (if it ever had one).

Smiley relies far too heavily on jump scares and false alarms to frighten the audience. Literally every time a character is on a computer, the camera closes in on them and there’s a jump scare of someone behind them. The carnage, when it does sporadically show up, is hardly gory nor original and is mostly confined to the tiny chat windows on the computer screen. Once you’ve seen one of these attacks, you’ve seen them all as they’re all identical. Director Michael Gallagher originally started out making Youtube videos and you can tell by his approach here – lots of the dream sequences are flashy and heavily-cut and edited together but lack any sort of real substance. The guy has little idea of how to craft a proper horror film and generate some real tension and scares and opts to go back to the BOO moments whenever he needs to wake the audience up. Believe me, they will need waking up. The final act totally ruins any lingering hope that the film would pick itself up in the run-in. In a twist lifted straight out of April Fool’s Day and Scream, the killer starts moralising about trolling and becoming the first viral serial killer. There’s even a “Smiley will be popular at Halloween” nod to the audience, almost as if the makers of the film are desperate for Smiley to actually become an iconic horror character that people would dress up as. Aside from a memorable mask which no doubt assisted greatly in the marketing, Smiley is just your generic man-in-a-mask with a knife. There have been countless killers before him and there will be after. Instead of trying to create the next super slasher villain, the producers of these types of films should just let the fame come organically. If you’ve got a cool killer, then they’ll win over the crowds.

Lead actress Caitlin Gerard is arguably the best part of the film and at least brings some nervous energy to the role of Ashley, even if the script she has to read from is atrocious. She’s got a great high-pitched scream though so make sure the sound is a little lower than usual in case you want a window smashing. Roger Bart’s professor character is there to provide a potential red herring and spouts off a load of pseudo-serious stuff about reason and logic, simply to try and add some seriousness and depth to the shallow narrative. Long-time character actor Keith David of They Live and The Thing fame cashes in a quick cheque as a police detective. Stare at the poster long enough and you’ll see more of him than you do here. A couple of internet ‘celebrities’ make cameo appearances (Shane Dawson and Toby Turner) but I have no clue who they are famous for, nor do I have any desire to find out.

 

In an era of silly viral things such as MOMO, I’m sure fifteen-year-old kids will get a kick out of Smiley but for most grown-ups, it’s just another example of how dumbed down our society is becoming, where we place more onus on things that don’t or shouldn’t matter than the things that are important. Opting to go for the obvious quick wins rather than crafting something atmospheric and scary, Smiley is just Candyman for the Snapchat/streaming generation.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Pit, The (1981)

The Pit (1981)

Jamie wouldn’t kill anyone…unless Teddy told him to!

Jamie is a lonely preteen boy who struggles to make friends and whose sole comforts come in the form of the reptiles in his terrarium and his teddy bear. One day out in the woods, he makes a disturbing discovery – a pit where prehistoric troglodytes have somehow managed to survive. Starting to feed them with raw meat bought from the butchers, Jamie soon realises their insatiable appetites need bigger quantities of flesh and so anyone who crosses his path is taken on a little trip down to the woods.

 

Hey, this was from the 80s after all – random stuff happened all of the time in horror films! Following on the tried-and-tested revenge plotline that so many horrors were sticking to at the time, The Pit puts a slightly different twist on the narrative. Rather than some guy in a mask coming back years later to get revenge for being bullied as a kid, Jamie is quite happy to feed his enemies to the troglodytes in the woods. Well, needs must and in this case, Jamie is very needy.

The Pit was a big let-down given how many rave reviews there are out for it. The basic storyline is, even for this site, too daft to be taken seriously and the execution is even worse. Slow, plodding and with not much atmosphere or excitement, I reckon the story would have worked better with a comedic element to it given the hokey nature of the storyline. Instead, to its detriment, The Pit is played straight and serious. There are times when the film looks like it’s going to break out into self-awareness (such as Jamie wheeling the old woman towards the pit) but no one behind the camera was clever enough to embrace this side and instead, we get a dour, monotonous and overly talky affair which only really picks up speed at about half-way through when Jamie starts feeding the troglodytes. Even then, the gore is minimal, and you don’t see much, if anything. He just pushes people into the pit and that’s it! More frustrating is the final third of the film, where Jamie seemingly disappears whilst the police investigation into the deaths takes centre stage. The structure of the story is jarring and looks to have been winged together as they were filming.

As Jamie, Sammy Snyders plays one of the most obnoxious kids ever put to film – he’s got a face only a mother could love, and his eyes hide a lot of deep anger and resentment. I’m not sure why the writers thought giving him the characteristics he has here would be a good thing – he’s meant to be a sympathetic leading character given his troubles around making friends and generally being normal. He’s not only obnoxious but his character is inherently creepy and a bit of a pervert, becoming smitten with his new babysitter and trying to express his love in strange ways – by basically feeding anyone who gets in his way to the troglodytes. If I was this babysitter, I’ve have taken on a new client asap. Snyders does a good job in bringing the role to life though and you certainly wouldn’t want your own kids hanging around with him. The funny thing is that he’s actually referred to as being autistic on the box of the old VHS tape. In today’s world, he’d just be any other kid, maybe with a bit of medication and professional help depending on the severity of his autism, but in the world of 1981 he’s this psychopathic loner.

The troglodytes are just as bad as you’d expect them to be in something as low budget. They look like drunken ewoks and you rarely see them in their full glory, with the director opting to keep them hidden down in the dark pit for as long as he can and only reveal their shining eyes glaring up at Jamie. There’s no attempt to explain how they’ve survived this long (they’re hungry little bleeders so how on earth have they been eating?) nor how they’ve managed to survive in this tiny pit. In original drafts of the script, the monsters were said to inhabit Jamie’s head and he was the one doing the killing which would have made a lot more sense. But there’s a lot of things happening here which make little sense, like why Jamie’s parents decide to go on holiday but are seemingly gone for the entire film. Have they deserted him? There is a talking teddy bear which tells him to do bad things but that’s never explained, nor is the twist ending, though it makes for a rather poetic final shot.

 

The Pit is a dull, wholly weird film where I’m not quite exactly sure what the makers of the film had originally set out to do. There are odd moments of inspiration, but I think they’re accidental rather than deliberate. Snyders makes for a memorable protagonist/antagonist but there’s little else here aside from the random weirdness. If ever a film was gagging for a proper remake, then this is it!

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Snakehead Swamp (2014)

Snakehead Swamp (2014)

When you’re in the bayou, you’re dead in the water

Whilst being transported, a bunch of mutant snakehead fish accidentally escape in the swamps around a small Louisiana town and proceed to start eating anyone who ventures too close to the water.

 

That’s about as good a synopsis as I’m going to squeeze out here as I wasn’t too sure on where the fish were going, why they’re so big, who was behind their creation, etc. The fact that they escape and kill people is all you really need to know. I think Frankenfish and Snakehead Terror did the killer fish thing about ten years ago too – I’m guessing Sy Fy assume that, by today’s reboot/remake logic, they only needed to wait a few years by making pretty much the same film over again.

As I’ve said on reviews for other Sy Fy films, you can pretty much copy and paste and simply replace the monster-of-the-week with something else and the film are indistinguishable. There’s literally nothing that these snakehead fish couldn’t do that a giant crocodile couldn’t do in the same locations and with the same story. And if you’ve seen even half a dozen of these Sy Fy films, then you’ll know how Snakehead Swamp will run from the first minute until the last. Director Don E. Fauntleroy made the terrible straight-to-TV Anaconda sequels, so he’s got some experience of dealing in these creature feature films and makes this equally as forgettable and non-descript.

Snakehead Swamp splits down into the usual three act formula – introduction of the problem, recognition of the problem and then resolution. It’s a tried-and-tested approach that even the likes of Jaws managed to pull off well. Only there’s no real drama to proceedings here – we know what is killing people off quickly because, like most Sy Fy films, the monsters are shown in all of their glory early on. It’s sad to see that in the time since Frankenfish and Snakehead Terror, the computer-generated fish look even worse now than they did ten years ago – special effects are supposed to be getting better, not progressively worse. Snakehead Swamp tries to compensate by splashing plenty of fake CG blood across the land and a bit of red liquid into the water to make the attacks seem gory; it’s a pity you hardly get to see any actual ‘action’ involving the fish. Again, replace the snakeheads with a giant crocodile and tell me that you wouldn’t notice the difference to the story. These films need to play up the uniqueness of their creatures – have them do things that other creatures can’t do to make a little bit more interesting or exciting. Instead, there are plenty of “something under the water” moments (like any killer shark film) or “something in the bushes near the water” moments (like any crocodile/alligator flick) which have been done to death.

The story runs through a familiar cycle of tropes without even a passing hint that the makers of the film intend to do anything remotely different or original with the material. Characters are cookie cut-outs, from the Bayou yokels to the estranged couple of the teenage lead character brought back together through adversity and are largely unappealing and unengaging. Give us some characteristics that will make the main characters seem more realistic than just another screen victim. I found it hard-pressed to remember any of the characters’ names here – even the woman with the badge. Was she a sheriff? A game warden? A cosplayer?

There’s a voodoo sub-plot in here which adds precisely nothing to the narrative except give Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear from the Starsky and Hutch TV series) a stereotypical witch doctor stereotype to embarrass himself in and another potential slant to the creation of the fish. Are they a product of this guy’s voodoo meddling or not? Who knows? Who cares? The voodoo sub-plot is referred to in a number of throwaway scenes and then quickly forgotten about once Fargas departs from the story.

 

I’m really struggling for material on this one. Snakehead Swamp is utterly forgettable and makes me ponder the meaning of life. When the time comes, will I look back and regret how much time I have wasted watching such pointless ninety-minute exercises in absolutely nothing?

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆