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The patchy cinematic record of novelist-turned-screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis includes the classic Christian Bale-starring adaptation of American Psycho and 2013’s The Canyons, a soft-porn showcase for some of Lindsay Lohan’s best work – plus plenty more forgettable and regrettable nonsense besides. Even so, this schlocky take on a series of real-life tragedies represents a new low.
Ellis’s script, directed by Tim Hunter (The Failures, River’s Edge), is based on the largely debunked theory that a series of young men found dead in or near lakes and rivers in the American midwest between the late 1990s and the 2010s were victims of a serial killer or killers.
Jake (Ronen Rubinstein) is a strapping college athlete whose general sense of unease is compounded when he starts receiving menacing text messages. The sinister, synth-heavy soundtrack and white van lurking in the edge of every frame suggest Jake is right to be concerned, but everyone else in his circle, including girlfriend Keren (Mia Serafino), dismisses these fears as paranoia.
Several examples of Ellis’s trademark affectless American youth are present and correct here. They drive around, listlessly discussing how so-and-so “seems super stressed and bummed-out lately” or “has been acting really weird”. Only the slow-arriving bludgeoning and torture scenes distinguish this from a dead-eyed Californian reality show, in the vein of The Hills or Selling Sunset.
The violence is gruesome, but the constant deployment of cliche – along with the casting of Crispin Glover, an actor who specialises in theatrically creepy oddballs, as the hammer-wielding man under the dark hood – only intensifies the sense of pantomime implausibility. With the addition of some decent jump-scares, Smiley Face Killers might have passed muster as a gender-swapped slasher flick, but it’s too under-researched to take seriously as true crime.
• Smiley Face Killers is on digital formats from 14 December.
Source: The Guardian
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