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.

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.

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


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)
About the Author

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

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