The “Slender Man” is a mythological monster born out of the wedlock of ghost stories and the internet, told by Creepypasta, the modern-day equivalent to telling ghost stories around a campfire. Created by Eric Knudsen (also known as “Victor Surge”), the well-dressed figure grew a following, with fans of the folktale doctoring older photos to seemingly include him as something long-gestating, as well as spreading his name onto digital platforms such as Reddit, and even going as far as to make a video game. The story surrounding this urban legend monster that scares away social media obsession becomes horrific when it’s legend is given authenticity with that of the two twelve-year-old girls who murdered their friend in the woods, all in the name of the “Slender Man.”
The well-serviced and well-executed documentary “Beware the Slenderman” from skilled documentarian filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky, tackles that story and examines the real-life terror of folktales possessing our youth to the point of atrocity. Exploring the vast and terrifying potential of the digital media age, bringing urban legends to life, influencing children into a position of committing murder.
This background pays no dividends in creating a masterful horror film. It actually should be slightly offensive to see a movie depict a make-believe monster in a legitimate fashion four years removed from the tragedy in Waukesha, Wisconsin. It’s a bit shocking to see that a film such as this one has not been dismantled and protested against by twitter activists, but “Slender Man” found its way into theaters, and it's one of the year’s worst.
This narrative involves teenagers, of course, revitalizing that old cliche of teenagers doing dumb shit, getting in over their heads, discovering the horrific reality of the world they’ve been shielded by, all of these cliches are there once again because who wants originality anymore, right? Nevertheless, the cast is made up by an ensemble of well-known and unknown teenage actresses, ranging from the inept Jody King to the talented Annalise Basso. Each of them finds themselves in the midst of an inescapable event in which they summoned the infamous child-terror known as “Slender Man,” a tall, creeky, and multi-appendaged figure whose face is empty of emotion. Like that of a mannequin, he shares no sentiment, no expression, a mere white canvas resides on the top of his body as he possesses and torments these teenagers, driving them into madness.
Is this “Nightmare on Elm Street” recreated? Yes. The film knows that too, even borrowing more from the horror genre’s prominent past, like that of referencing “The Exorcist” by re-creating the bed-ridden imagery of the younger sister, Lizzie (Taylor Richardson), whose hair stylization is reminiscent of a young Linda Blair. You can also find familiar imagery that echoes films such as “Blair Witch," and “The Ring” is perhaps the most noticeable work that "Slender Man" replicates for a digital audience. Though it never becomes as hilariously horrendous as other horror films from earlier this year, looking at you “Truth or Dare," "Slender Man" never becomes worth a viewing experience.
“Slender Man” becomes worse in that way, unable to manifest any sense of entertainment, mistakingly or otherwise. The visualizing of this legend turned real-life nightmare is atrocious as well, and where this film loses a lot of its merit, cinematographer Luca Del Puppo provides one of the worst framings of his career. Shooting these events with the mindset of a student short film, one that spent all of its money on the VFX of the creature, forgetting about the necessity of lighting, editing equipment, and seemingly constructed a purposefully designed framing that seems as if it had a veil pulled over the lens. It’s murky, overly shadowed, dark, and forgets that the absence of light makes it hard for us to see the characters.
Then again, the characters might as well as be invisible. The attempts to create resonance for them from screenwriter David Birke (“Elle”) is abysmal. We learn that they like boys, watch POV porn together, and enjoy texting one another. It would be easy to say that this film needed a woman’s touch, but I can imagine that few female filmmakers would stake their careers on a movie such as this one.
The females to be found on-screen aren’t any better either, each of them has their fair share of moments, even beginning the film with an array of hope that seemingly gives off the idea that the modern folk-tale turned movie may have more to offer than a well-known name. These actresses deserve better too, they're left with characters devoid of personality, like that of the empty cipher stalking them. Their shared quality as actresses seemingly dissipates over time, becoming more and more like your stereotypical scary story for teenagers, and it feels like it resonated with that demographic.
The wave of teenagers that packed themselves into the back rows of my theater squirmed and jolted in their seats, seemingly enjoying their experience. I wish I could say the same. My near-developed brain would not allow me to mindlessly stare at the visualization of the slandering and faceless creature. Those unfamiliar with this faceless figure will find themselves asking “what’s all the fuss about?” I could say its the forewarnings of digital media's significance in our culture, examining how the ongoing fear-mongering of false tales is gaining prevalence over the broad reach of the interwebs, how it seems to be an unstoppable phenomenon, but it does none of those things. (despite trying to do so)
If “Slender Man” was meant to forewarn us of these dangers, they did a piss poor job.