On May of 2014, 12-year-olds Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser from Waukesha, Wisconsin lured their friend Payton Leutner into the woods and stabbed her 19 times in an attempt to impress an internet meme called Slender Man. Leutner crawled to a road where she was found; she recovered after six days in the hospital. Weier and Geyser were found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to 25 to 40 years in mental health institutions. The documentary Beware The Slenderman from HBO is a riveting, heart-breaking portrayal of these events.
Instead of doing the right, honest, just, or even balanced thing in this case, Slender Man tries to turn out a quick teen horror junk cash-in, and fails at even that. I’m entirely split between which is worse: how god-awful the treatment of the situation was handled, or how embarrassingly crap a seemingly slam-dunk horror crap-a-thon wound up rendered on the big screen. Sure, the internet is responsible for group-creating a fake monster that nearly led to real-world death, but also almost anyone on the internet could have done popcorn summer-schlock better than this.
We open on a small town set in a modern day curse of economic ruin. There’s no Main Street but there’s no Wal-Mart either, so there’s just a high school full of horned-up teens with nothing to do. It’s a pretty okay setting for a 2018 horror film — just crib a few socialist notes from Night in the Woods and you’ll be good! A group of teenage best friends Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Wren (Joey King), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair), and Katie (Annalise Basso) wind up googling Slender Man because a boy that is cute didn’t invite them to a Getting Murdered By Slender Man party. As happens, these Cool Teens find internet results regarding the rapist version of Jack Skellington, and think that he sounds not great, but also keep reading about him, but also try to stop reading about him, but also keep reading about him. You know: Party Fun!
The girls make a decision to summon that Bad Thin Guy from the Onlines, and they learn some rules like His arrival is marked by three bell rings and Wear a blindfold when you summon him or else he gets you or some other things that are immediately ignored because the rules of this world are meaningless. The next day, the Four Best Friends are walking by the woods and one of the girls looks at the woods. There’s a cut to hours later when an entire high school class is somehow bored by her disappearance and then the police show up. ADR’d over this is a bunch of other students saying “The police showed up wait why did the police show up?” in case no one is watching the film. That friend is gone, taken by The Goodlooking Ghost, and the rest of the friend group isn’t sure why.
Not enough horror icons take the time to kill you and then considerately shut down all of your social media accounts.
The girl who has departed this film has thankfully left a number of open threads. The first is an alcoholic father who both breaks into the houses of the other girls, but is also (somehow) the victim of the teenage girls trying to investigate him. Missing Friend also has an online buddy who helps explains some things about Slender Man, until Slender Man gets that friend, which we learn because their IM chat name is shut down.
Look, I don’t mean to be a dick, but not enough horror icons take the time to kill you and then considerately shut down all of your social media accounts so no one winds up with dangling text conversations. My active thought here was “Wow, that Slenderfella sure is considerate of online courtesy!”
This all happens immediately. Our inciting incident here is the disappearance of a teen girl, and whether her group of friends can save her. From the outset of the film, this high school clique is actually really engaging. There’s a solid five minutes where you could be tricked into thinking it would be possible to care what happens next. Then it’s gone.
The remains of the film’s runtime is an indiscernible trope kaleidoscope of mundane half-hearted sighs. Teenage girls walk through various locations while loud tree-branch cracking sound effects or floorboard creaks play with ostentatious frequency. Every single movement behind any character is a tree branch or a CGI shadow. Someone shines a cell-phone flashlight directly at the camera and no one can see what happens next. Another teenager appears and says “hello” but actually it’s quite scary, due to low rumbles. That’s… That’s goddamned it.
Slender Man is a film that has taken on a, for better or worse, modern horror icon and endeavored to do absolutely nothing with it. He’s a tall gentleperson with a few tentacle-type elements extending from his body and a face that isn’t a face. This is, perhaps, the tragedy? It’s a monster that was created by, thrives on, and is most effective when boosted by a communal spirit. Screen Gems threw it into a vacuum and hoped that the director of Stomp The Yard would know how to bring him to life.
Imagine all the garbage internet ephemera you made eight years ago. Now picture that in HD and six stories tall.
And it’s not as though the takeaway here is that you shouldn’t make horror movies based on internet creepypasta. East Asian cinema’s been doing it for years. In 2001, Kiyoshi Kurosawa made the film Kairo (Pulse), in which a group of teens realize ghosts are slowly slipping out of computers and killing everyone, but no one notices, because the whole world is moving to social media and no one can tell what’s real anymore. That’s 2001. It’s 2018, and here we are, faced with the story of an actual social media virus that manifested itself in the minds of teenagers and resulted in bloodshed. But instead of dealing with, again, the Actual Horrorscape That We’re Trapped In With No Escape, the film wants to do the blandest version of nothing jumpscares that you could possibly cobble together into a marketable product. At just over a 90 minute runtime.
There are fake internet searches that turn up — embarrassingly for all involved — the original SomethingAwful forum Photoshop posts by the character’s creator. They were cute eight years ago as part of a creepypasta thread; blown up on the big screen this is all just… I dunno. Imagine all the garbage internet ephemera you made eight years ago. Now picture that in HD and six stories tall.
The girls keep getting picked off by Slender Man. Some of them might start calling him directly. No one is sure why. Everything goes poorly. The film ends by directly addressing the audience and begging us not to spread the word of Slender Man, because that gives him power. Honestly, do not share this film review with anyone else, if you can help it. My traffic doesn’t matter but I’d like to hold true to my implied promise to another tall dude.
Slender Man dabbles in the idea, directly at points, that the tragedy befalling these teenage girls is the result of a sort of collective psychosis, which would have been an excellent version of adapting a nonsense meme for an audience in a world where said meme has already claimed victims. Especially when the first trailers for this film released after Weier and Geyser were convicted in the Wisconsin case. You can’t pretend you don’t know what you’re doing, when you’re rushing to beat victims to their own trial. You can’t pretend this all away as entertainment, when the entire world knows where you got the idea.
In refusing to try for anything of substance, Slender Man becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. Like a meme, it has a look and a vague sense of discomfort, but there’s absolutely nothing else here. As is the best advice for the Calorie Impaired Gentlefriend himself, if you just click and move on, you should be fine. The real crime would be allowing him to steal your time.
No if you care at all about how you spend your money; Still No even if you don’t.
Main takeaway: Slender Man takes on a modern horror icon and endeavors to do absolutely nothing with it.