Whilst most of you are cuddling up today with a loved one why not look for an excuse to pull the old 'put arm around' move and comfort your date whilst watching Michael J Gallagher's new urban legend slasher horror flick 'Smiley'. It landed on DVD this week across the US and our John has been talking with the director about the project, his influences and the story behind the newest masked killer on the scene.
Smiley is the new film, please
tell us about it?
Smiley is a psychological thriller about a college student who learns that
if you start a video chat with someone on an anonymous chat site, you can
summon a creature named Smiley to kill the person you are chatting with.
It’s a take on Bloody Mary or Candyman but for the digital age.
There have been many films
that have explored urban mythology and scary stories. What sets Smiley
One critic put it best, in saying that Smiley shows the “the casual
cynicism and nihilistic misanthropy that so often go along with online
culture”. I have spent the last 5 years working directly in the digital
space and found that the more time people spend with their technology, the
less connected they are from compassion and other sympathetic human
emotions. People have become increasingly snarky, cold and desensitized.
I hadn’t seen Internet culture depicted that way in a genre film and
Smiley felt like the perfect opportunity.
Also, the film stars a number of actors who got their
start on YouTube, and it’s really terrific to finally see them play darker
characters and do something different. Shane Dawson is someone I have done
comedy with for years, so it was nice to see him play the male lead in a
Where did the idea for Smiley
The fear of over sharing is something I still grapple with. I think a lot
of people are afraid that what they put out online will come back to haunt
them, whether it’s in the form of risqué photos posted to Facebook or
someone’s search history. Smiley takes that idea to the extreme in a
creepy teen slasher film sort of way.
Michael: "I've always loved practical effects and the power of an arresting visual".
You've worked with social
media before in Youtube. Do you think that the events of Smiley could
happen in some form and do you think there should be more
The events in Smiley are already happening all over. We are just seeing it
done in smaller, less obvious doses. Cyberbullying is something that teens
everywhere are effected by and we continue to find solutions for. The
bottom line is that when people have the chance to act anonymously, it
brings out their true nature, for better or worse. For the record, I do
believe in an open and free Internet, but I think parents need to be more
conscious and knowledgably of what their teens are actually doing
It’s obviously important in a
film like this that the mask is scary. Where did the influence for this
I’ve always loved practical effects and the power of an arresting visual.
Originally Smiley was going to just be a guy with a stocking and a painted
smiley face over it. Early on in the script phase, I realized that for
this character to transcend from the cliché, we should really create a
larger than life creature that could menace Ashley in real life and in her
dreams. And it was pretty awesome to create a terrifying version of an
The film had more of a
psychological thriller feel at times rather than a horror. Was this
something you set out to do?
Absolutely. The film is a psychological thriller. The serial killer /
slasher / horror side is very light. Ashley thinks she’s the victim of a
“teen slasher” when really her mind is projecting much more than what is
There does appear to be a
social message in the film. Could you expand on whether this was a
conscious decision and what that intended message was?
I think there is a lot people can infer from the film, about how we use
technology, about human nature in the digital age, effects of
cyberbullying, etc. The main social message the film explores is that true
evil is when people commit unspeakable acts that lack motivation. To me,
that is a hundred times more terrifying than a boogeyman, because we
recognize that evil exists in others… and within ourselves.
Michael: "This isn't a film for genre nuts. It's intended to be a 'gateway' horror film for young filmgoers".
How difficult was it to handle
the bipolar and suicide plotlines sensitively while still making a horror
I think you want a genre film to have dramatic weight without it taking
over the whole film. The balance was found in the script, which worked
well because we didn’t end up cutting or adding any of those scenes in
post. The bipolar and suicide plotlines are very important to the story to
understanding why Ashley acts the way she does.
Having now produced an
independent horror film do you feel this is the best way for writers,
directors and actors to produce work in a genre dominated by remakes and
Making an independent film has its challenges. Not only did I self-finance
the film, but also self-released the film theatrically by partnering with
AMC Independent. Going independent is great for control, but it is very
costly and time consuming. I think independent cinema is perfect for
filmmakers who want to make their first films or tell a very personal
story. It’s important to also think about who your audience is for the
film so you can budget accordingly. I think it can be irresponsible for
filmmakers to spend so much money on projects that will never earn back.
But this was an absolutely amazing experience that I learned so much
Do you think that when making
a horror film it is necessary to give the audience a little bit of what
they have come to expect from the genre while at the same time trying to
tell as original story as possible? I refer to horror staples such as “boo
scares” and “he’s behind you” moments.
I think it’s important to keep your audience in mind. We made this for
young adults who know the actors in the film from their shows on YouTube.
For the most part, that demographic is high school and college age. The
films tone, scare level, etc – all is made with that demographic in mind.
This isn’t a film for genre nuts. It’s intended to be a “gateway” horror
film for young filmgoers.
Who would you say has
influenced you as a director?
I am very influenced by the work of Roman Polanski, particularly Repulsion
and Rosemary’s Baby. I love his use of the mundane things in life as a way
to build tension. His films aren’t overly horrifying but they infiltrate
the mind and let your imagination do the heavy lifting.
What are your favourite horror
I love The Shining, Caché, The Ring and the original Halloween. I recently
saw Sinister and thought it was just fantastic.
What projects are you working
on at the moment?
I have a weekly sketch comedy series called Totally Sketch that you can
check out online. There is a big “Choose Your Own Adventure” Valentine’s
Day series that’s going up on February 14th that is 45 minutes of utter
ridiculousness. I also have another feature that we hope to film later
"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview.
'Smiley' is now available on DVD.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the