As with all review-caps, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! You’ve been warned.
When I first saw the trailer for Slender Man, a couple of thoughts went through my mind. First – that as usual, Hollywood was way too late in getting the movie out. From what I understand, the whole Slender Man meme / creepypasta thing peaked several years back (and that basic knowledge is mostly coming from my teenage daughter, who was also into it for a while). The second and most important thought I had was that going ahead with the movie was a horrible idea anyway, considering that a very real 12-year old girl in Waukesha, Wisconsin had been stabbed nearly to death by two classmates who thought Slender Man was real, and either wanted to impress him or feared that their own (and their families’) lives were in danger from him.
But since when has something like tact ever stopped Hollywood from capitalizing on a potential moneymaking franchise? Never. So here we are, in 2018, with the Slender Man movie in theaters. I knew going in that the creatives involved wouldn’t focus on the real-life incident – not only would it be stepping way over the line as far as bad taste, but it would also just be too messy for them legally. One would think though, that perhaps they would take the opportunity to create a truly epic backstory for the character of Slender Man. Strictly from a storytelling standpoint, the idea is hardly an original one – the giant, faceless bogeyman that lurks in the dark forests and abandoned places of the world luring children to their deaths has been around for centuries.
So why not start there? Why not tell us a grand, ancient tale of where this creature came from? Why limit Slender Man’s scope to a modern-day, internet-based origin and world? And I can just hear the answer in the studio phone calls/meetings now – “…because that way we can do it quick and cheap and we won’t need A-listers. Anything we do manage to make will be pure profit. We’ll have another franchise we can milk for a decade!” Yeah, well, sometimes it works that way. I’m sure all those responsible were having cash-filled dreams of a new Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity or Insidious-type success.
But this time around, it didn’t work. Not at all. In fact, instead of coming up with an epic story, they went completely the other way and apparently decided that no story at all would be the best option. The entire movie is nothing but a bucket of horror tropes all tossed together like a bad salad. They don’t even make the effort to explain where Slender Man came from. The lead characters (and props to all the actors for giving it their best) sit around at a girl’s night kickback, and after laughing at some porn decide to watch a scary internet video (à la THE RING) of various one-frame, seizure-inducing flashes of miscellaneous images that (unlike The Ring) have nothing to do with anything.
And what happens after that? I’m still not entirely sure, because the movie is so vague about everything that we never find anything out for sure. Who is Slender Man? No idea. Some super-tall, faceless dude in a suit with spider arms who hangs out in the woods. How does he lure the kids to him? Besides his amazing ability to make his own videos and phone calls? No idea. They don’t tell you. What happens to the kids after they’re attacked? Well, it depends – Katie (Annalise Basso) just up and vanishes after looking into the woods, never to be seen again. Wren (Joey King) gets sucked out a window and is also never seen again. Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) gets nearly-strangled by either Slender Man – or herself, not sure which – and goes into some kind of catatonia. Hallie (Julia Goldani-Telles) is the only one whose fate we see, as she sacrifices herself to Slender Man to save her little sister Lizzie (Taylor Richardson), who toward the end starts suffering these non-specific “panic attacks” that put her in the hospital. After Hallie’s “death,” she’s fine. I think. Maybe. Not really sure about that, either.
So what’s the point of it all? You got me. Other than trying to make a quick buck, I couldn’t tell you what anybody responsible for this mess was going for. To call it derivative even seems too polite. Slender Man is a lot more like what you get when you decide (for some strange reason) to eat leftovers that you’ve already reheated three or four times. And I hope that the box office returns (or lack thereof in this case) give Sony exactly what they deserve for this one – a huge bomb.
SLENDER MAN is in theaters now.