When you think about “smiley,” do you think happy thoughts? If so, then that might change after the release of a horror movie called Smiley. By choosing to make 4chan / Anonymous the villain in this micro-budget slasher flick, the wrath of those collectives are aimed at director Michael Gallagher. He’s received so many death threats that the FBI is reportedly deciding whether or not to open an investigation into the “bizarre, life-imitates-art situation.”
What is the movie about? According to the synopsis of Smiley:
After discovering an urban legend on 4chan's /b/ board of a demented serial killer that has nothing but a carved 'smilely' on his face, Ashley, a mentally fragile teen, must decide whether she is going insane, or the next victim.
Choosing to hone in and point the finger at real group of people, as being behind the fictitious urban legend of a serial killer from the Internet, has had considerable backlash and painted a target on the movie's masterminds. Gallagher, known as @TotallySketch, tweeted:
Variety said Smiley has raised “hackers’ hackles” even though Gallagher and co-writer Glasgow Phillips claim they “were seeking authenticity -- and the chance to shine a light on one of the darkest corners of the Internet.” Since the prerelease, “Gallagher has endured a torrent of voicemails, emails, texts, message-board posts and comments laced with death threats, insults and admonitions to spam and harass the filmmaker, his colleagues, his girlfriend and his family.”
Gallagher told Variety that 4chan/b/ board allegedly published his home address, cellphone number, links to his sites and accounts, as well as information about his girlfriend, parents and cousins. Since then, 4chan and Anonymous have supposedly been bombarding Gallagher with about 40 harassing calls per minute. Voicemail, email and text examples of the threats he is receiving include:
"DIRECTOR AND WRITER OF THIS FILM MUST DIE." … "We are considering killing his dog and reporting him for animal cruelty." … "Where is the hero that wants to go out in style when you need him? Killing the cast/directors would be a great way to end this life."
Although Gallagher says he has “thick skin,” he believes this is “different” because it involves his family, girlfriend and other people who worked on the movie. When it comes to the FBI’s involvement, the agency will not confirm or deny a possible investigation. Since the death threats began, however, “the FBI and Gallagher have since been in contact.” Variety noted that the FBI’s cyber division has prosecuted some 4chan users for child pornography in the past.
An interesting twist in this “life-imitates-art situation” is that while the backlash is coming from the power of the interwebz networking, the movie also uses the power of social networking to pimp Smiley. Gallagher has a huge social media following on YouTube as TotallySketch. To help ensure the film’s success, he enlisted other YouTube and Internet sensations with “massive and active social media followings.”
Dread Central posted the Smiley press release:
SMILEY, co-written by YouTube sensation Gallagher and Glasgow Phillips (“South Park”) and produced by Michael Wormser (Some Guy Who Kills People) of Level 10 Films, has an enormous fan base to call on. Gallagher and his YouTube partners on “Totally Sketch,” as well as the other performers in the film including Shane Dawson (“Shane Dawson’s TV”) and Toby Turner ("The Annoying Orange"), have over 11 million subscribers, 2.2 billion views, and 4 million plus fans on Facebook/Twitter combined.
That social networking popularity for marketing is working and the original trailer has over 17.6 million views. Other cast members include Ashley being played by Caitlin Gerard from Magic Mike and The Social Network, Melanie Papalia from Endgame, Andrew James Allen from The Lovely Bones, Roger Bart from Desperate Housewives, Keith David from The Thing, and Liza Weil from Scandal.
Although Smiley -- "Evil wears a smile" -- has put out three movie posters so far, there are various movie tweets playing up the “share in 10 seconds” or else angle. On Facebook there are more posts playing up the power of spooky mingled with social network sharing such as “LIKE this Smiley post in 10 seconds or...”
The Wrap said Smiley has “ample blood and gore,” so if gory-horror-slasher films are your cup of tea, then the movie “will debut on Oct. 12, through AMC's independent platform on 28 screens in 14 mostly urban markets including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston and Atlanta.” AMC Theaters will exclusively release the horror film from Fever Productions, but AMC has removed any mention of 4chan the synopsis.
Guts and gore are not my type of thing, but Totally Horror wrote, "This movie actually looks pretty interesting. It has an interesting storyline and good actors."