Slender Man, the internet horror phenomenon, has come to the screen. The creature’s characterisation is precise but the environment that the filmmakers create does not fit. Christian Tesfaye awards 5 out of 10 stars.
Slender Man is an urban legend. But it was once nothing more than an internet meme. But like the scary folklore stories of lore, endemic to most societies, it gained a life of its own. It appealed to our nature to attempt to explain away things we do not wholly understand.
Slender Man is an abnormally tall, thin creature resembling a man. It dons a rather fine suit and has tentacles that poke out of its back. But it has no face, no features whatsoever.
And neither does it have a background. No one knows what it is. It just is.
It preys on children mostly. Why that particular choice is unknown. He does not seem to want anything other than to feed on the fear and trauma of the innocent.
In essence, he is the ultimate antagonist of the horror genre. Villains with an agenda, even of the most egregious sort, are somewhat relatable, because we know what they are and want. Those that confound us at every turn are terrifying.
Slender Man, the movie, understands that attempting to explain away the creature is wrong. But building on the myth and terror of the character requires an astute understanding of human nature.
The movie requires an atmosphere that is claustrophobic. Confining Slender Man to the ‘gotcha’ gamuts prevalent in runof the mill horror movies would be doing a disservice to the internet phenomenon, as is the case here.
The first act is similar to that of many horror movies. It begins with four teenagers, all female, attempting a seemingly innocuous act, which they are later punished for. In most horror movies it is some promiscuous behaviour. Here it is watching a video on the internet marked specifically not to be seen. Their punishment in this movie is for not believing in the supernatural.
The video does weird them out, but they quickly discount it and return to doing what girls their age do. But as a week passes they realise that not all is peachy. They wake up sweating from nightmares and see an apparition of Slender Man in the woods.
This goes on until one of them disappears on a clear, sunny day. The others are increasingly stalked, not just physically, but also mentally.
Unfortunately, the film does not build on the latter element of terror. Instead, we get to see Slender Man pop out at every unexpected turn, scaring the poor teenagers to their wit’s end.
It would have been better to do what Black Mirror did. One of its best episodes concerns a man who volunteers to play a horror video game in augmented reality. Suffice it to say that he goes crazy, and the episode is every bit as unnerving as it is fascinating. All of those mangled and maimed body parts we usually see in horror movies are not half as scary as being trapped inside a mind that has lost its grip on reality.
I liked Slender Man’s cold, depressing ending; it was a confirmation that Slender Man, like nature, is overpowering and that its will is inescapable. The protagonists never had a chance to begin with. But that is where its brilliance ends.
The director is Sylvain White, the man behind movies such as I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, Stomp the Yard and The Losers. From the perspective of the last two movies he has made, Slender Man, for all its mediocrity, is his masterpiece.
Eric Knudsen, the creator of Slender Man, who has closely guarded the copyrights to the fictional character, once said, “I just want something amazing to come off it … something that’s scary and disturbing and [kind of] different. I would hate for something to come out and just be kind of conventional.”
Well, Knudsen’s fears have come true. There has come a movie that even Slender Man for all the horror he has committed does not deserve.
Indeed, the horror genre is trickier than it may look. Every year, there are plenty of above average drama, romance, sci-fi, action and fantasy movies. But a good horror film is hard to come by.
It takes a truly unique filmmaker to create an atmosphere that inspires dread in audiences that have been immunised by countless numbers of slasher movies.
White, the director, has my sympathy.
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