Awful, pointless and insulting, Slender Man fails on almost every level. 2012 called, and it wants its meme back.
So, we finally made it. Over the one hundred or so years since Thomas Edison produced the very first reel of film and gave birth to the cinematic medium, we’ve waited patiently for the moment when we might finally understand the craft of filmmaking in its most perfected and completed form. On a dull and grey evening in August of 2018, I took my seat in a bustling screening of Sylvain White’s Slender Man, to take my place as a part of cinematic history. With tears whipping at the corners of my eyes, I breathed deep, and settled in.
Okay, sorry for the overbearing sarcasm – I feel that only through emphasising the contrast between what I know this medium is capable of, and the atrocity that was burned onto my retinas for a near two hours, can I express my sheer frustration at the futility of it all. Slender Man should not exist. Whatever filmic appeal this ‘horror icon’ might have possessed died years and years ago along with Markiplier’s screams, and now there’s nothing but exasperation. Oh, Sony. When your Slender Man movie can’t even outpace its own crappy knock-off, The Bye Bye Man, to get into cinemas, you know you’ve screwed up. What’s worse, when we’ve been treated to some truly-great modern horrors in recent years (It Follows springing to mind) it makes gross cash grabs like this even more futile. Why, oh why, does this movie even exist?
The setup is standard enough; a group of four friends decide to spend their evening watching a creepy cursed video that they found whilst trawling Google, and as a result, summon Slender Man to haunt them. Surprisingly the two main leads, Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles) and Wren (Joey King) give some pretty passable performances, although the majority of the other ‘characters’ in the film are hilariously poor. This is especially true of Hallie’s irritating sister Lizzie (Taylor Richardson), who I suspect is meant to be likable and inspire us to care about Hallie and her family, but she comes across about as convincing as a piece of plastic. The film is also mired with some truly appalling and laughable dialogue – some of my favourites include “Did you know that sneezing is supposed to help you expel demons?” and “It’s like a computer virus that infects your hard-drive, but instead of your hard-drive, it’s your brain.” The opening scene, featuring our heroes lol’ing at some cat videos on YouTube, intends to ground the film in a present age of social media terrors, but it just comes across as tone-deaf, written by someone who only observes these trends, rather than partaking.
The rural American setting does at least provide for plenty of shots of foreboding forests, to remain somewhat in-line with the premise of the videogame. There are moments where the cinematography almost succeeds, with some inventive shots blurring shadows and tree branches, but they’re too infrequent to be anything other than flukes. Some of the film’s least-terrible parts are able to, at the very least, persuade me that there is a threat to the main characters, but the second that the threat reveals itself, all of the anticipation is gone. Slender Man‘s biggest problem is that it’s titular antagonist isn’t scary – he looks ridiculous. If he lingers in a shot for anything longer than a second, his awful make-up and CGI limbs become so clear that we may as well be watching editorial footage. One ‘riveting’ sequence at the close of the movie, where Slender Man fully extends his shadowy limbs and crawls along the ground like a spider, looked so awful and made me laugh so hard I nearly kicked my popcorn over – and the shot lasts for nearly ten seconds.
In addition, this movie boasts a considerable amount of “movie logic” moments that broke any kind of immersion in the story. For starters, the ‘school trip to the graveyard’ that was clearly clumsily-written into the movie just so we could have a creepy backdrop for the scene. Then there’s the scene in which the father of a missing girl breaks into Hallie’s house so that he could jump out of the darkness, wordlessly chase her up the stairs and hammer on her door, before finally realising that perhaps just asking her about his daughter might prove more productive. Apparently the sentence for breaking and entering, and then physically-assaulting a young girl is only a night in a cell because he’s back in the movie the next day, and apparently none of the other characters suspect or even fear him after this. Finally, after being told that another of their friends was being kept at home because she was ill, Hallie and Wren turn up to her house and are greeted with the sight of her as a zombified, catatonic mute; but I guess that wasn’t worth taking her to the doctor for? And she never gets mentioned again.
There’s so much more I could say about this movie, but I’m not sure it would even be worthwhile. Up until the closing monologue, the film is just bad to a formula. Poor CGI, laughable scripts and hilarious scares can turn an inferior product into a rollicking, ‘so bad it’s good’ flick, and I thought Slender Man was destined for the same fate, albeit being amongst the most boring I’d seen. However, there is a segment of the epilogue which, as it appears in the film, reads as grotesque, embarrassing and deplorable. The line in question, which read something along the lines of “The terrible things that you go on to do once Slender Man takes you over”, has some seriously-unfortunate undertones in relation to the case of the real-life ‘Slender Man Stabbing’ case, and its inclusion, whether knowingly or not, seems to make a mockery of the undeniable mental illness that led to such a tragedy. Hearing this line made me realise something I had only guessed at before – this movie gives no sh*ts. And neither should you.
Slender Man, directed by Sylvain White, is distributed in the UK by Columbia Pictures Corporation Ltd. Certificate 15.