It isn’t every day that the horror genre sees the birth of a new icon. In fact, it’s been awhile since such a thing has been done, the most notable being the creation of Jigsaw, way back in 2004 with Saw. While I’d love to say Slender Man has given us the next, great horror villain to haunt our dreams, the film instead drops the ball so hard that it will be lucky if it’s even remembered as some vague myth like the creation it’s based on…
…Directed by Sylvian White (I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer) and written by David Birke (13 Sins), Slender Man is based off of the CreepyPasta story created by Victor Surge, about an otherworldly being known as the Slender Man that drives kids crazy before carrying them off into another realm. The film revolves around a group of girls who decide it would be cool to summon Slender Man, who is treated like a fun scary story similar to Bloody Mary. But when the four girls realize they may have actually caught the attention of the true Slender Man, they find themselves in a fight for their lives and their own sanity.
I’m going to go ahead and right away point out Slender Man’s greatest flaw, and that is the fact that it is clear as Slender Man’s smooth, pasty face that this film was severely edited to reach a PG-13 rating. This is a trend which took over the horror realm this weekend with the release of the heavily neutered The Meg and the announcement that Sony is planning on doing the same to Venom, which was originally slated to have an R rating. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, but a PG-13 rating does not make a horror film bad in any way, yet when it’s obvious that the film has been mangled by producers to reach that rating, with total disregard for the film’s quality as long as they can get a few more butts in the seats during opening weekend, it’s not only felt all throughout the film, but is an insult to fans of the genre. It’s a disturbing tactic that I thought studios were past with the recent success of films like Deadpool or Logan, but I was wrong. We were all so damn wrong.
Anyone excited by the initial trailer for Slender Man will find themselves greatly disappointed, as it’s the perfect evidence as to the type of butchering that took place in the editing room. That image of Jazz Sinclair’s character Chloe stabbing herself in the eye? Doesn’t happen. Even the scene that for me was a major selling point involving what looks like Joey King as Wren, walking through the woods as the camera pans down to something in her arms, is gone. And damnit, I want to know what was in her arms! Because I’d bet anything that it’s a hell of a lot more satisfying than what ultimately happens to her in this watered-down version of ultimately just another teen spook story that focuses more on jump scares than providing its audience with anything worthwhile.
I won’t knock the cast, led by Julia Goldani Telles as Hallie, because they all are trying their best with a script that provides hardly a speck of development, though the film could’ve used more of Annalise Basso as Katie, who provides a quiet innocence to the film that is actually quite captivating during her short amount of time on screen. Sinclair does a great job in displaying a slow progression into madness, King is as good as ever, and Telles often feels like the strong final girl the film needs. But that’s about all these talented actresses can do, because Birke’s script does everything it can to make these characters seem either bland or misguided or both. Even though Telles is trying, it’s hard to be a relatable character that the audience likes when she is constantly turning her back on her friends, at one point walking off while giving the finger to a desperate Wren seeking her help. There’s no one to root for in Slender Man, and for a film which deals heavily with the decline of sanity and psychological horror, to have characters that are boring and unlikeable, well, that’s just not a mix that even Slender Man would touch with a ten-foot tentacle.
Like most supernatural films geared towards a teen audience by money hungry studios trying to make a quick buck, Slender Man is a by the numbers horror film that is overflowing with the same old tricks and clichés employed by every other film like it. The film has everything from supernatural entities appearing suddenly in front of characters to the pile of drawings depicting the Slender Man, all the way down to the same old “researching the evil on the internet” montage that has me wishing so badly that computers would just be banned already from horror films. Slender Man stands so unsteadily on its own bony legs, that I’m beginning to wonder if I should just avoid horror films with the word Man in them altogether, because at this point, films like Slender Man, The Bye Bye Man, and The Tall Man all might as well be the same movie, with the same techniques, the same boring plot devices, and the same lame attempts at seeing how high they can make the audience jump. Slender Man could stand to gain a few more pounds in terms of story.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t at least some decent atmosphere in Slender Man. From open to close, the film is haunted by the presence of the Slender Man and the visions which are plaguing our heroines. Slender Man offers little to no relief from the never-ending trauma which the characters are being put through, and White actually does a decent job of creating moments of tension, in particular the bell tolling in the middle of foggy woods, signaling the announcement of Slender Man’s approach, as cliché as that is. While most of the imagery is ruined by poor CGI, there are a few moments that come close to being effective, such as an invasion of tree roots into the human body that, had they been done practically, could’ve had the potential to make the tree molestation in Evil Dead look like a sweet fantasy from Captain Planet’s tree hugging dreams. And there’s my absurd reference for the day.
You could actually argue that the film is so dark (literally from a cinematography standpoint) that it creates a sort of helpless feeling for the characters that hurts the film more than it helps. Sure, the pervasive evil that hides in the shadows of each frame may increase the miniscule amount of tension which the script provides, but it also sends a message to the audience as well, that we are not watching kids who are fighting an evil entity with the hopes of survival. We’re merely watching them succumb to it. Sinister twists and endings work great in horror films, but they have to be earned through an up and down trial of survival. Halloween 3 is a great example, in which Tom Atkins character fights back against the evil and even succeeds at times, but is ultimately unsuccessful. Not the case here. These characters do so little, and are given so little opportunity to do much of anything to help their situation, that they are pretty much left to just go with the flow as Slender Man’s black tentacles close around them. You can’t have fear without the audience’s hope that the hero/heroine will beat the evil. If we feel that its hopeless, there’s nothing to do but detach yourself and watch as the characters suffer. And as the audience, boy do we suffer through this movie.
As for the Slender Man himself, I can understand how he became a fan favorite through CreepyPasta. Initially, there’s nothing all that unique about him, he’s just a tall, creepy white guy in a suit, and we have plenty of those in the world. But once Slender Man shows off his other limbs, he’s like a Lovecraftian, Nazi spider demon straight out of a bad trip. It’s incredibly frustrating that Slender Man takes what is actually a pretty cool design for its villain and takes a computer animated dump all over it with cheap CGI. Even more frustrating is the fact that it seems as if White occasionally uses some practical FX for Slender Man in close-ups, which begs the question why some of those effects weren’t used more throughout the film.
Slender Man is a clichéd horror film with an anorexic story that will leave you wishing you had taken a ninety-minute nap instead of sitting through this forgettable slog of an adaptation based off a much better story.
Slender Man is now showing in theaters nation wide.
By Matt Konopka
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