Starring Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Annalise Basso, Alex Fitzalan. Directed by Sylvain White.
For anyone under thirty, the mid to late 2000s was most likely spent wasting hours online watching youtube videos, trawling memes and no doubt discovering Creepypastas. For those uninformed, Creepypastas are online horror stories, usually short but particularly inventive, created by normal people, that capture the imagination of the readers, and in their most basic form, create a new urban legend.
It’s surprising then that it’s taken a decade for the film world to catch up with the internet, the SyFy channel has capitalised on this with their anthology horror series Channel Zero which each season takes a creepypasta legend and turns it into a series but the most famous of this new wave of legends has always been Slender Man, and has always been oddly missing from TV and film.
Like folklore, legends and so on, the creepypasta works on the basis of retelling, and since young people in their late teens and early twenties are sure to be captured by well done photoshop jobs and intriguing “true life” tales, it’s no wonder that much like The Tale of the Hook, or Bloody Mary, these new legends have come to the fore.
Jeff the Killer is perhaps the most famous along with Slender Man, though Penpal a self-published novel by Dathan Auerbach started life as a creeptpasta, _9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9 was an unknown writer of Lovecraftian levels and the Candle Cove legend (which became Channel Zero’s season one).
Slender Man as a character may now be known best known due to two video games Slender: The Eight Pages and Slender: The Arrival as well as the infamous near-fatal stabbing of a 12 year old in Wisconsin, though this overshadows that much like Bloody Mary, it is all fiction.
In fact, most savvy internet users may know Slender Man from the popular and genuinely unsettling (read: shit your pants scary) Marble Hornets channel, a web series that captured what it meant to be enthralled in the legend.
Now Sony brings us Slender Man from The Losers’ director Sylvain White. The story follows four girls who summon Slender Man on a whim and discover their world falling apart after one goes missing.
Horror movies come in waves, the 80s were all about slashers, the 90s were about post-modernism, the early 2000s about torture porn, the late 2000s about remakes and now post-2012 horror has gone back to a more inventive streak from the thought-provoking and cerebral (The Witch, Mother!, It Comes at Night, Hereditary), to the clever and unnerving (Get Out, The Babadook, A Quiet Place, It Follows, It) to the fun (Happy Death Day, You’re Next), and thanks in part to James Wan bringing horror back to its old-fashioned roots with his The Conjuring films, we are in an era where horror is at it’s best.
But, Slender Man is none of these. Slender Man is terrible, and it’s terrible for many reasons. A legend based on the internet has such potential to be an interesting font of creative ideas; if it was perhaps under the Blumhouse banner where smart ideas can flourish, but despite their hardest efforts, Sony is a big company and one that clearly had no faith in this movie.
Joey King is the main star and after The Conjuring, Wish Upon and this makes a good stake at being a new Scream Queen but even her talent cannot save this. The whole idea that you watch a video and it brings about Slender Man is ripped off of The Ring, which includes bad film school shots in a montage that freaks you out, but really what the legend had in it was the idea that if you thought about him, he appeared. Like Freddy Kruger, fear makes him stronger – how do you not think about something? Once you’re told not to, it’s all you can do.
Not only this, but the characters are stick thin in the extreme: all four girls appear to be the same person. One has an alcoholic father, one is black, one has a maybe boyfriend and the other is the one from them horror films but apart from that there’s nothing. Not only this but so much of the film is taken up with people in misty woods running around screaming that you think you might be watching the terrible Blair Witch reboot.
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Any atmosphere is non-existent, and when the big bad shows himself he’s neither as scary as you’d hope nor as uncanny as you’d hope. Javier Botet sort of already played Slender Man when he played The Crooked Man in the excellent The Conjuring 2, and while he was also the painting guise of It and Mama in Mama, here he has nothing to do. The rendering of his faceless nature looks terrible, and he doesn’t move in a scary way; he looks plain uninspired.
Considering the font of online legends and “true” stories to pull from the film falls back of tired cliches and a closing coder that seems like a moral message about spreading lies, yet the film forgets that true horror comes from scaring people. The reason It cut so deep was that you began to care about the kids, the reason Happy Death Day was so fun was because you were invested in the redemption of the central girl. Here we have a film that only clocks in at the 80 minute mark but feels like two and a half hours, plodding, with lashings of unearned surrealism that come and go at will without any power.
Our reviews of Hereditary and Mother! may have skewered towards negative but at least both have lingered in the minds and remained something to be thought about, Slender Man, ironically, is nothing to see, and nothing that will haunt your dreams. It’s a dull, boring mess. Go online and watch Marble Hornets, that is terror done properly.