Thanks to Jodi, who already covered the origins of Slender Man earlier this week, I don’t have to rehash the history of the fictitious online creation or how it inspired two 12-year-old girls to stab their friend in an effort to appease and impress the figure. All you need to know is that he’s very much not real, though some people seem to not understand that, and the girls who took their belief in him the farthest were later diagnosed with actual mental disorders (one girl is schizophrenic, while the other has a delusional disorder called schizotypy). Instead, I can dive right into the movie Slender Man, which takes the Slender Man mythos and basically tries to combine its virality and urban legend aspects into a knock-off of The Ring and Candyman. Emphasis on “knock-off.”
As you may expect, the movie met with criticism from its inception over concerns that it was a distasteful attempt to cash in on a real-life tragedy. And to a certain extent, I shared those concerns. I wondered if the film would center on a group of girls (it does, but they’re in high school) or imitate any of the circumstances of the case (eh — it doesn’t really). On the other hand, the horror genre has always drawn inspiration from real life. The serial killer Ed Gein inspired Psycho’s Norman Bates, Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface, and Silence of the Lamb’s Hannibal Lecter, for example. So in that sense, it’s hard to criticize Slender Man for doing what so many films before it already did, even if you could argue that its too soon. Luckily, the film steers mostly clear of the real events that transpired. Slender Man was already a work of fiction to begin with, and the film stays rooted in that place rather than in the stabbing incident — though it does attempt to provide some casual commentary as to what might cause teenagers to invest themselves wholeheartedly in an urban legend about a faceless man who stalks children. It’s just that the commentary, like the film itself, is pointless and slack.
The story focuses on four teenage girls who read about Slender Man on online forums and try to summon him by watching the requisite creepy video. Apparently, it works, because Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Wren (Joey King), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair), and Katie (Annalise Basso) start having nightmares about him — and then Katie disappears. Her friends dig deeper into the stories surrounding Slender Man in an attempt to figure out what happened to their friend and get her back. And Slender Man, you know, slowly stalks and drives the girls insane or whatever. The end.
And if you want to yell at me for not including a spoiler alert on that, then FINE. But you could basically figure out everything I just said from watching the trailer. Or from the fact that Slender Man’s whole schtick is stalking and driving people crazy. I ain’t sorry. The fact is for horror movies, being formulaic or simplistic isn’t actually detrimental at all. “Mysterious supernatural force takes out a group of people one by one” could apply to almost anything. What makes or breaks a horror flick is the style with which it carries out that plot. Basically: Is it scary? Answer: I almost fell asleep during the climax of this movie. I was in a theater, all jacked up on Sour Patch Kids and soda, and my eyes kept drifting shut.
And like, I’m not saying I scare easily, but even if I’m not cringing in my seat, I still appreciate some well-executed jump scares, you know? This doesn’t have those. It does have some good intentions in how it utilizes its titular monster, though. I found myself peering into every shadowy corner of the frame, trying to spot his figure in the background — just like the doctored photos that gave rise to Slender Man’s popularity. So the film does that much pretty well. Sadly, Slender Man is at his most effective when you’re basically ignoring the characters in the foreground. And when he himself takes center stage? He’s kind of a letdown.
The argument the film makes for why these kids fall into the trap of the Slender Man mythology is similarly frustrating. There’s a general ambiance that the film establishes early on, of an out-of-date town with bland strip malls, crumbling sidewalks, and an ugly high school. It’s an uninspired place made for leaving. To Katie, Slender Man symbolizes an escape, not only from the town but from her life with her alcoholic father. Being whisked away by an occult-ish monster is preferable to her reality. And for the other girls… I dunno, excitement? A feeling of maturity? Basically, the film seems to say that their lives were so boring, even a hint of actual horror is better than nothing. But it also seems to argue that disappearances and tragedies are what perpetuate the Slender Man legend, as though his virality is a self-fulfilling prophecy — and a thing of his own design. Or something. Like, the film clearly has ideas on this topic, but they don’t add up to a clear point of view.
Or maybe I just didn’t get it. Honestly, it was so boring I could barely pay attention. And in the end, that’s the most offensive thing about this movie.
Header Image Source: Sony Pictures