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I hate trashing movies. I really do. Even some of the worst films in existance are redeemable in some way, but Smiley Face Killers is a film made for no one. I’m an easy-going girl. I don’t fret about time wasted or ill-spent because why bother? There’s always tomorrow right, well this damn movie had me bitter about the hour and thirty minutes I wasted watching it. Time I could’ve spent on rewatching Re-Animator. Every now and then I will come across a film that not only baffles me but makes me wonder why the hell they even made the thing?

What is this film? Other than an excuse to ogle over Ronen Rubinstein’s body and to offer an undercooked crime theory, there’s almost no point to its existence. It’s not entertaining, it’s not informative, it’s not moving, it’s not anything. It’s just there. The excessive amount of boob shots that appear in the Friday the 13th remake has nothing on this attempt at a psychological slasher. Smiley Face Killers could be a drinking game, there are over 15 full shots of actor Ronen Rubinstein’s naked chest and a little over 10 shots of his naked ass. The lights in his shower are brighter than the ones in his bedroom. Honestly, the way this movie constantly finds a way to take off Rubinstein’s clothes is the best thing about it because it’s so hilarious.

Rubinstein is indeed a sight to behold but I prefer my objectification with a bit of little plot to go with it. Otherwise, he’s just a lifeless pretty face, like a corpse, a corpse that acts about as bored as I was while I was watching this. May I suggest 9-1-1: Lone Star or Some Kind of Hate if you want to see a more decent showcase of Rubinstein’s face and acting. Don’t go here.

Directed by Tim Hunter and written by novelist Bret Easton Ellis whose strength clearly resides in books and not screenplays, Smiley Face Killers is a big dull dud that doesn’t know what to do with itself. It’s also a complete waste of potential. If the last 20 minutes were separated from the rest of the feature and made into a short film, it would’ve been pretty good. The rest is just excess and such a pointless endeavor that it’s astounding. Did they have some extra money lying around and decide to just poop out a film over the weekend?

The story follows young college student Jake Graham (Rubinstein) as he’s being stalked by three hooded figures who plan on murdering him. Even though he’s somewhat aware of their presence, he doesn’t exactly realize what’s going on yet he can feel their eyes watching and it’s putting a major damper on his social life.

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Before we’re even introduced to Jake though, the film offers up an explanation for what’s about to happen. The explanation appears like a written prologue on the screen less than five minutes into the opening explaining that it is based on a true story. “Since 1997, more than 156 young men across US college campuses have drowned under suspicious circumstances. Symbols spray-painted at the scenes have led some to propose these accidents are in fact, serial killers.” This basically just gives everything way and is a sign of the film’s laziness. It prefers to just tell the audience what is happening rather than show it through a story.

What follows is treated as one segment in a long series of events that have already happened. Such a setup makes the film feel like a slasher posing as a documentary made with the quality of a Lifetime movie.

Jake himself is not a very likable protagonist. Almost immediately we’re told about his unspecified mental illness for which he requires medication that he’s recently stopped taking. We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? A poor protagonist is not taken seriously because they are “crazy” and off their meds. Same thing here.

However, we see nothing of Jake’s behavior before the film so his friends and girlfriend constantly bringing up his lack of meds and apparent strange behavior just sounds like white noise. It doesn’t help that Jake himself acts no different between the start of the film and the end of the film. By the way, another thing about Jake…he never brings up the fact that someone is actively following him around for about 99% of the movie. The stalkers aren’t even trying to be inconspicuous. They leave their van in the open, kill Jake’s roommate, chase him down the street, start sending him strange texts, and even break into his room to leave clues of his demise, but he never makes the connection that these actions are the workings of someone dangerous. He never considers calling the police.

Crispin Glover plays the lead killer who has only a minor appearance. The only performance, outside of a brief burst of life from Rubinstein near the end, with any actual weight behind it. He’s joined with two others and together they form a cult that seemingly worships a figure known as Galiel who shares a connection to water.

What their religion is and who they worship is never explained but it’s the reason they’re drowning young men across America for each sacrifice is meant to represent Galiel in human form being sent back to the ocean. All this is crammed into the last 20 minutes when it should have been the premise itself.

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What is the real smiley face killers theory?

The backbone of Smiley Face Killers is the alleged true story that it’s based on. It’s the reason the plot goes nowhere as Hunter and Ellis worry too much about going along with these events within their own story that they want to match in menace and mystery. The premise of the film is loosely based on a serial killer theory that’s been floating around in urban legend status for years. The theory largely comes from three individuals, two retired detectives and a professor, who believe that a number of young men who have drowned in various bodies of water across Midwestern America from the late 1990s to the 2010s are actually the victims of a serial killer or a group of killers.

The “smiley face” part comes from the occasional smiley face graffiti mark found near some of the bodies. Many of which were later discovered to have been painted on years before the victims lived in the areas.

The theory hasn’t been well received by experts and isn’t supported by any evidence aside from the few smiley faces (one of the most popular graffiti markings of the 1990s) found at the scenes. Many of the deceased died after consuming large amounts of alcohol and drugs and showed no signs of trauma prior to entering the water. The “research” for this film clearly consisted of just googling “smiley face killers theory” and copying the alleged torture and murder of Christopher Jenkins, one of the victims whose parents claimed he was tortured in a van for hours before getting dumped in the water despite there being no indication that this is true. Jenkins’ body showed no signs of trauma and contrary to popular belief, water does not magically wash away all evidence. Though it does make homicide considerably harder to prove.

‘The FBI has reviewed the information about the victims provided by two retired police detectives, who have dubbed these incidents the “Smiley Face Murders,” and interviewed an individual who provided information to the detectives. To date, we have not developed any evidence to support links between these tragic deaths or any evidence substantiating the theory that these deaths are the work of a serial killer or killers. The vast majority of these instances appear to be alcohol-related drownings. The FBI will continue to work with the local police in the affected areas to provide support as requested.” FBI National Press Office, FBI Statement Regarding Midwest River Deaths on April 29, 2008

Verdict

Again I will ask, what the hell is this movie? Who made the okay for this? Cats was a better horror movie than this. Mr. Ellis if you’re listening, stick to writing books! This whole thing was a poorly researched take on a seemingly true story about as solid as cheesecloth. The characters were less than one-dimensional but just descriptions of characters reading lines like they were half-asleep.

Smiley Face Killers deserves one star for attempt but the appearance of Crispin Glover and the whole final act brings it up to one and a half. Way to go. 1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

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Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

Movies n TV

If You Don’t Woe Me by Now

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This is the second to last episode of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And it’s kind of exactly what I expected it to be. But is that a bad thing? Let’s find out.

(Missed my last review? Click here to read it now.)

We begin at the funeral of the unfortunate Mayor Noble. While Wednesday seems to have been an invited guest, someone else in attendance isn’t. 

Uncle Fester, played by Fred Armisen. 

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Fred Armisen as Uncle Fester in Wednesday.

His visit couldn’t have come at a better time for Wednesday, as almost all of her friends aren’t talking to her. When Thing is brutally attacked, it’s even better luck that Uncle Fester is around. 

This attack on Thing spurs Wednesday to speed up her search. With her uncle’s help, she breaks into the Nightshade library and finds that the monster attacking people is called a Hyde. A creature that can only be called upon by someone else. 

This means that instead of one killer, we are looking for two. And Wednesday is pretty sure she knows who the killers are. 

But of course, she’s still an idiot teenager, so she goes right ahead and confronts one of them, Dr. Kinbott, by herself. This has results that surprise no one. 

After this, Wednesday learns her lesson and gets Sheriff Galpin involved to catch her suspected monster. Their relationship seems to be getting better after he caught her and Tyler in the Crackstone tomb watching Legally Blond and didn’t rebuke them. Maybe he’s softened on the idea of Wednesday dating his son. 

Or maybe he wanted to use her to get around needing a search warrant for Xander’s art studio. Because why follow the law when you can risk the life of a teenager by sending her in to start grabbing up evidence in a flagrant disregard for the safety and rights of two kids? 

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Because that’s exactly what happened. Honestly, poor Xavier has gone through so much trying to be friends with Wednesday. 

When you’re a fan of a certain genre, you’ll find yourself recognizing the beats of a story before they even happen. For instance, a murder mystery will often have a moment, right near the climax of the story, where it seems like the case is solved. 

Gwendoline Christie and Jenna Ortega in Wednesday

This was that episode. It appears like the case is solved, but it’s all a little too easy. And too early in the episode. Now, I don’t consider this a bad thing. It’s an expectation of the genre. Especially because this is a show for a young audience who might never have seen this before. And in this case, just because I saw it coming didn’t mean it wasn’t satisfying. 

This one was satisfying because of the implications. The real monster is revealed now. And if you’ve figured out who it is, you understand how difficult a job Wednesday is going to have to prove it. 

One thing I like about Wednesday is that there is no dishonesty in this child. If she thinks something, it comes right out. So of course she had no problem confronting her therapist as soon as she started putting the pieces together. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that she expects other people to behave like her. To be honest, at least some of the time. To attack from behind, and attack people other than herself to get her point across. Because, sadly, good people tend to judge others in the ways they would behave. 

I loved the addition of Fred Armisen as Uncle Fester. And I wasn’t expecting him to do a good job, honestly. I’m quite used to Christopher Lloyd as Fester, so this was kind of shocking. But as always, he was great. He brought a sense of levity and joyous foolishness that this character should always have.

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All in all, this was a great episode. My biggest criticism is that the twist ending isn’t as unpredictable as one might like. When you’ve been a selfish prick to everyone around you, and all of your friends are done with your shit, but one person is still fine with it, that person might just have some ulterior motives. 

There’s just one episode left, and I’m excited to see how the story wraps up. I have high hopes for it. And I’m just thankful that the season has exceeded the rather dismal expectations I had for it at the beginning. 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

The Beach House, a Film Review

The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.

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The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.

Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.

A woman with her mouth agape. Behind her is a dark background. Next to her reads, "The Beach House." Below is a scenic beach with a mountain in the distance.
The Beach House Alternative Cover Art

What I Like

Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.

Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.

Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.

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In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings

As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.

Woman looks shocked or horrified. Bushes or trees make up the background.
Liana Liberato as Emily

What I Dislike or Considerations

A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.

It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.

One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.

There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.

Final Thoughts

The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.

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Every Secret Thing, a Film Review

Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.

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Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.

When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.

Laura Lippman stands out at the top of the cover, over a black background. Every Secret Thing appearing over a pool
Every Secret Thing Book Cover

What I Like

The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.

Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.

The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.

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Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings

Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.

Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.

Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.

Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.

Daughter resting on her mother's shoulder. Both are in the back of a car.
Diane Lane as Helen and Danielle Macdonald as Alice

What I Dislike

Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.

A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.

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As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.

Final Thoughts

Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

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