Smiley Face Killers is a film with an intriguing first act coupled with a nasty third act. Yet it is firmly held back by a shockingly bad middle act.
When a murderous cult arrives on campus, Jake (Ronan Rubenstein) finds himself plagued with mysterious messages that lead him and his friends down the rabbit hole towards murder and mayhem. With pressures closing in from all sides, Jake must decide if the cryptic messages are a prank or if his life is truly at risk.
An air of mystery is meant to be presented to audiences here about our killers. From the interesting opening to the last 30 minutes, there are obvious elements that work here, specifically for genre fans. It just isn’t enough to cover the scope of a 90 minute film. Which considering the potential in the source material and the writer of the film, is down right unbelievable.
As soon as we encounter our lead Jake the film and the script fall apart. We spend 5 utterly boring minutes seeing Jake go through his day at college and we are as bored as he is as he attempts to study. We then take a journey to see the key players in his life and there is zero oomph to the pace of the film. That gruesome but intriguing opening is lost to us. The need to see what happens next or what the group seemingly have planned for Jake is gone.
We somehow learn too much and too little about Jake and his friends, not that it matters anyway for how one-note the majority of them are written. Another shame the movie has upon itself as you can actively see the cast try to work as well as they can. Yet they are curtailed by a spectacularly shoddy script.
Jake is apparently on medication and seemingly has bouts of depression and mania. His friends and girlfriend notice when he isn’t taking his medication, yet all they do is ask for him to go back onto it. His roommate is sick of him. He is also paranoid over the former relationship his girlfriend had with someone else. He is a complicated character who is performed very well by Ronan Rubenstein and the character and performance deserve to be in something better. But maybe that is the point of the film. This person is going through a hell of a time in his young life and these predators are coming to get him as they have (somehow) been able to scope him out and insert themselves secretly (and not so secretly) into his life until they decide to pounce.
We are not meant to know too much about our killers and that is fair enough. However, like the rest of the cast. We learn enough about them to get a handle of them and each of their personalities. But they are still kept at arm’s length and presented as mysterious. You cannot have it both ways and there needed to be a moment in the production where it had to be decided that they were either kept in the dark. Which in truth would have worked far better. Or we see everything about them and learn their full story, again which would have worked well. Alas, we are given that awkward middle ground where it just doesn’t work for the story that was presented.
For anyone who knows the “history” of the Smiley Face Killers theory. They will know the apparent randomness of the supposed attacks. How the media and police never fully picked up on it due to them being spread out over a multitude of states. The whole theory and idea are interesting enough. So to follow one of the unsuspecting victims should be at worst an okay film. Somehow we have a film that is so devoid from a premise that works that it eventually becomes a bog-standard chase horror by the final act. The one blessing this film has is that it hopefully pushes audiences towards the documentary on the theory regarding the deaths. It is a great watch.
For all of what doesn’t work throughout the film. When the Smiley Face Killers decides to get nasty it goes with it full force. Making the middle act all the more puzzling for how mild it is. Why start with some gruesome moments and have a final act that is grim, suspenseful and nasty, for the middle to be a boring stalker flick?
Smiley Face Killers is a waste of a premise that should be a home run of a horror film, yet we are left to dawdle around for too long before we reach an undeservingly brutal finale. Such a disappointment.
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