Slender Man, for millions of fans, is the king of Creepypasta, but Slender Man is not the film they’ve been waiting for. Though it’s named for a monster of the internet age, Slender Man is so utterly generic that it feels like someone wrote a horror movie script, filled it with stock scare tactics, but lacked a name and identity for the monster pursuing the girls. What’s that? Slender Man’s a thing? Sure, let’s call it Slender Man!
To begin with, this was not a project that could afford to be generic. Because of Slender Man‘s stature, the movie needed to be more than a typical, late-summer throwaway flick for bored young people who have seen everything else. Working against Slender Man is Syfy’s Channel Zero that has been serving up Creepypasta-inspired tales for three seasons with near unanimous praise. Also working against Slender Man is the real life Slender-inspired stabbing of a 12-year-old girl in Wisconsin. The girl’s father has already spoken out against the film.
“…the movie has no idea what Slender Man is, what his abilities are, and why he does what he does.”
In other words, the pressure was on to deliver something if not good, then at least compelling. Helping the filmmakers is that Slender himself is such a distinctive monster. With his blank face, gangling limbs and dark suit, he’s already packaged to be cinematically appealing. When you think of iconic horror villains like Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, or Ghost Face, their imagery was a product of costume design and make-up developed in pre-production. Slender Man on the other hand, enters the movie screen fully formed. It’s frustrating then that director Sylvain White treats Slender Man like the shark in Jaws. It’s always (if ever) just a peak, and then White leaves you waiting for the title character to finally make an appearance in his own movie.
Instead, we focus on four high school girls who, on a whim, decide to spend their Friday night summoning Slender Man because reasons. But also because their small American town is actually very,very small and summoning internet monsters is about all there is to do. The movie opens like it was directed by Ken Loach, with scenes of suburban decay, boarded-up storefronts, and a small town that’s seen better days. The film’s colour pallet, and the girls’ almost monochromatic wardrobe choices, scream “Something bad is about to go down!”
Anyway, our group of young women is friendly with a group of boys at their high school, and when one of them learns that the boys are summoning Slender, they decide to summon him too. How is this done? By watching a video. No, you read that right. In a sizzle real taken from unused The Ring footage, the girls start getting a sense that there’s a sinister presence in their midst. When one of the group disappears on a field trip, not coincidentally near a menacing woods, the remaining trio start to wonder if the Slender Man is real.
Obviously, for the benefit of the plot, Slender Man is real. He’s not only the author of intro viral videos, but he can also drive you to insanity, haunt your dreams, phase through doors and walls, cause you to have very vivid fugue states in the middle of the day or night, can appear to you in broad daylight or camouflage himself as a tree, and he can send video chats to your phone of him stalking you. In other words, the movie has no idea what Slender Man is, what his abilities are, and why he does what he does.
“Rules are the building blocks of a coherent world in a horror movie […] In Slender Man, there are no rules.”
This means you never have a clear idea of what Slender Man wants, how the girls hope to evade him, or escape his tendrils outright. Rules are the building blocks of a coherent world in a horror movie; we know Freddy can only hurt you in your dreams, we know that Jason doesn’t like going in the lake, we know that you have to kill Dracula with a stake to the heart, and on, and on. In Slender Man, there are no rules. Slender does what Slender does because the script needs him to do it, and the script just needs him to kill those girls.
In light of Slender being a vague, and unknowable figure, it falls to the human characters to carry the load and make you care about their own fate. I confess that there’s some interesting stuff going on with our main characters, at least on the periphery. Wren (Joey King) seems to have some resentment for Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), who’s a track star student athlete and might have a better future than her. Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) has grown up without her father, a soldier who presumably died in one of America’s two present foreign wars.
Then there’s Katie (Annaliese Basso), the first girl to disappear, who has to deal with her alcoholic father, and dreams of running away to places elsewhere. The scene in the movie that is the most tense involves Katie’s father accosting our Hallie at home, and blames her for Katie’s interest in the occult. It’s a bit weird that in one week Katie had done enough research on Slender Man to write a doctoral thesis, but that might be the smallest plot hole in this film.
The film barely touches on the character’s connection to folklore like the Shadow People or the Piped Piper and highlights them only in a montage. The film also doesn’t do anything with the user generated idea behind Creepypasta, like how we can all take part in the making of a legend, and thus take a kind of ownership of our fears. That kind of stuff seems a bit advanced for this movie, which is only really interested, it seems, in being a slasher movie in the most basic sense of the genre.
“The biggest problem with the film is that it feels like it’s come a couple of years too late […] Slender Man’s time has come and gone.”
The biggest problem with the film is that it feels like it’s come a couple of years too late. In our accelerated internet age, Slender Man’s time has come and gone. With the tragedy in Wisconsin tied to the character, and very much front of mind thanks to an HBO documentary on the subject, a Slender Man movie seems almost distasteful. This could have been an opportunity to re-contextualize Slender, but the filmmakers had a name and a bunch of horror movie trope leftovers in the fridge that they could turn into the movie, and they did.
Instead of a reprieve, it feels like Slender Man buries the legend, and perhaps buries it permanently. It had possibilities, but Slender Man can’t even play it safe. It just plays it boring.