Ah… I remember Slender Man. Rather, I remember getting myself and my high school friends spooked over nothing as we culled the interwebs in search of everyone’s favorite creepypasta from 2011. Also there was a pretty decent yet frustratingly difficult computer game that pretty much everyone tried at least twice before getting too scared. Aside from that though, the window for developing anything substantial in terms of live-action saw only a series of short films on YouTube called Marble Hornets. Apparently – and I just learned this – that series actually did see a feature-length film by the name of Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story – in 2015, mind you, so it was before Star Wars had swooped up that form of subtitle. And though it had master of body expressions Doug Jones portray the featured creature, it had a very limited release on VOD and made hardly a ripple in the found-footage horror subgenre landscape. So, as far as anyone was concerned, the market for tall, slender supernatural beings was still untapped in Hollywood, which is why we ended up with imitators and clones in the forms of The Tall Man with Jessica Biel and The Bye Bye Man last year, which perhaps fittingly also starred Doug Jones as the titular creature. Well, fortunately for Slender Man creator Eric Knudsen a.k.a. Victor Surge – and I do mean creator, as in Slender Man isn’t actually a legend; he was just made up by some dude – neither of those movies were very well regarded or seen for that matter and so here we are, getting the definitive big-screen incarnation of the one and only, Slender Man. And it’s about as bad as you’d expect. Though perhaps not in every way that you’d expect. Granted, it’s not an easy task to adapt something that was the direct inspiration for a real-life youth stabbing just four years prior – disregarding why someone would even elect to to begin with – but where Slender Man fails is by not being even a narratively sound and scary horror film to begin with. There are some flashes of directorial creativity, suggesting a good film could have been made, but it sells out quickly by devolving into cheap, jump-scare territory to the point that not even the recognizability of its eponymous character can save it.
In Slender Man, high school best friends Wren (Joey King), Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) and Katie (Annalise Basso) decide to do what all the cool kids are doing: look up the supernatural Slender Man on the Internet. Well, naturally that leads to them watching a summoning video, to which they properly do the deed. Soon thereafter the four of them begin experiencing visceral nightmares, and start to sense Slender Man’s presence in their everyday lives. Though they shrug it off as merely a coincidence, soon Katie goes missing while on a school field trip, and the remaining girls are left to question whether or not they’re all going insane. With the police coming up with zero leads on the investigation, Wren, Hallie and Chloe take it upon themselves to track the supernatural angle of the case, which leads them to an online Slender Man expert that Katie had been in contact with prior to her disappearance. As the girls learn more and more about the lore, they begin to realize that the threat is real, and that their lives are also in danger. They quickly must collaborate on how to get Katie back, before they too are lost in Slender Man’s thrall forever.
So, yes, the subjects of the Slender Man movie are the target audience themselves. In other words, the film caters to people who have looked up Slender Man online by presenting them with characters who find themselves in the mess they’ve made by doing the exact same thing. And sometimes meta movies work, like how The Avengers is all about proving how the team-up can work to the diegetic world and simultaneously to the real-life moviegoing public. Except, no, Slender Man doesn’t make me scared simply because I’ve looked up Slender Man before. Had this movie come out six or seven years ago, I’d say it was worth a shot, and though that passage of time may not seem like a lot to older folks, it is for those youths who were the target audience back when it was popular and have since spent that time forgetting to be scared of tall guys in suits.
Meanwhile, the whole Slender Man “narrative” doesn’t particularly shine in this format. Contrived as it may have been, there was enough good work done by Knudsen and pretty much everyone else with free time and photoshop back in the day that it did serve to be the kind of quintessential campfire story for the Facebook generation, you know, back when you could show it to your friend who’d never heard of it before and didn’t already know it was all a hoax. And Slender Man really does earn the “creepy” part of it being a creepypasta, him being a faceless, dapper stiltman with tentacle arms that abducts children like a spooky Pied Piper figure. Just a simple Google Image search of him and you’ll be beset by a series of strange photographs of him allegedly standing in the background of a playground or something, with whatever text it’s attached to purporting that a certain number of the children photographed went missing afterwards. It’s admittedly creepy stuff, totally fake or not, but it loses that sense of realism when suddenly there’s a ninety-three minute movie about him playing at the mall whose opening credits base it off an original creation by Victor Surge, spoiling its own hook for the as of yet uninitiated. And it really doesn’t help that Slender Man is pretty hackneyed and basic even as far as horror movies go.
And since wide audiences are only really drawn to horror movies for the scares and gratifying kills, let’s get into both of those, shall we? While Slender Man begins with the kind of drawn-out disturbing approach befitting of better supernatural stalker movies like It Follows, it eventually devolves into the kind of low-budget, laughable, try-hard jump-scare fest that even casual viewers have become savvy to by now. Seriously, I know in haunting movies, there are often moments where the characters have some sort of perturbing and petrifying vision that somehow distorts reality or whatever, but when those visual choices are so arbitrary and seemingly unrelated to the plot, you have to wonder if the creators ever gave a moment’s thought to really nail down the spooky feel of the film. So unless you’re James Wan and can pull that kind of thing off, either get out or get creative.
Which Slender Man actually almost does for a little while. If there’s anyone I want to exempt from criticism here, it’s director Sylvain White, who you can tell early on really wanted to make a subversive horror film. The only thing that kept me from really disdaining it through its first half – and forgive me, while I get a little film snobby for a second – is the clever and unique ways White would set up certain shots that I wouldn’t really expect from a film of this caliber. And with its young cast being mostly decent – including former child actress Joey King, who also got the short end of the staff in another laughable horror wannabe in last year’s Wish Upon – I often sat there wondering whether Slender Man was going to come up clutch down the stretch a leave audiences with a surprisingly decent cash-grab. Until it took a hard left turn into camp town, that is. Legend has it, the studio got cold feet on this one, demanding as PG-13 an outing as possible so as not to offend the widest array of people. Well, ipso facto, the only way to do that was to allegedly remove several key scenes from the finished product, thereby leaving three subplots – so far as I can count – bafflingly forgotten and unaddressed to the point that we’re not even watching a complete movie. And though I will not argue that it needed to be longer, I do believe that there is a good Slender Man movie somewhere out there, or, at least, a slightly better one.
Well, in any case, I’m sure not many people will even notice it’s here, which at this point I’m sure the studio is thrilled about. And though we can imagine what might have been all we want, the actual film that’s been released in theatres is an incoherent, bland scary movie that’s more apt to make you laugh than scream. And though history has yet to be fully written, it seems that for now, the proper silver-screen treatment will continue to elude the 2010’s creepiest creepypasta.
Final Score: 2/10