IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 92 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In a small town in Massachusetts, four friends – Wren, Hallie, Chloe and Katie – summon the Slender Man. A week later, Katie disappears and the other three girls go to her house to investigate for clues. They discover that Katie had been involved in the occult and that she wanted the Slender Man to take her. They decide to make contact with the Slender Man in an attempt to get Katie back in exchange for something else….
Following in the footsteps of the pathetic The Bye Bye Man, the inept Wish Upon and the stupid Truth Or Dare, Slender Man is another pretty shoddy excuse for a horror film seemingly aimed at only the most easy to please of teenagers. The makers of these films really do seem to be of the opinion that things like awful writing, dire acting and lack of genuine scares [I don’t really consider endless BOO! moments to be of that category unless particularly well done] just don’t matter if you’re young and probably more interested in the person sitting next you anyway. Much like Truth Or Dare, Slender Man had potential, potential that’s been largely wasted. The myth of Slender Man, essentially an updating of the Bogeyman, is a fascinating modern urban legend, created by Eric Knudsen in 2009 as a “creepypasta” internet meme, kind of the tech age equivalent of ghost stories told around a bonfire. It quickly gained in popularity and spread through several forms of media, which makes one wonder why they waited until now to make the film. But there’s no doubt that an interesting, frightening horror film rife with commentary about the dangers of the internet [okay, it’s quite a popular horror film subject these days but that’s not at all surprising] could be made from this premise. Unfriended 2: Dark Web is certainly evidence of that. However, this certainly isn’t it.
Perhaps one shouldn’t judge the end result too harshly though, because it’s obvious that the film has been meddled with to its detriment even if you didn’t know that Sony, a studio which has a history of doing this sort of thing, decided to gut the film in fear of a backlash because of a case in 2014 when two teenagers lured their friend into the woods and stabbed her 19 times in an attempt to impress Slender Man. Considering the film doesn’t seem to reference that atrocity, this seems to me to be something of a knee-jerk reaction. Several major scare sequences were removed and much of what you see in the trailer too, but it also appears that a whole lot else was cut out too so what we’re left with seems like it’s missing chunks of footage, with some very awkward transitions and poor continuity. A good example of this is when one girl says to another: “I thought you didn’t care about track. I thought you cared about Chloe.” This line of dialogue would seem to be referring to an earlier scene in which “track” is mentioned, but that earlier scene is missing. But then dialogue is hardly the film’s strong point with lines like: “He’s like a computer virus except he gets inside your body and messes with you!” Really? Couldn’t she have just said: “He’s like a virus”? Does screenwriter David Birke think that today’s teens are so tech addicted that they don’t know what a ‘normal’ virus is? Even I wouldn’t go that far and it just seems condescending.
So our barely characterised, indeed barely distinguishable, teenage girls Wren, Hallie, Chloe and Katie decide to do something very silly, and it’s already evident that, as with the slightly better Friend Request, The Ring is a major influence considering the visuals we see as our bright sparks watch a cursed YouTube video about Slender Man, a pale, gaunt figure who goes around snatching kids and/or poisoning their minds. “It’s different for everyone,” Wren says, “but it only ends in insanity or death.” A week later, Katie disappears in the first sign that the film has been hacked to pieces as it wasn’t even clear to me what had happened until we see some cops searching for her in the forest – well, I say “see”, because you can barely see what’s going on in the scene. Cinematographer Luca Del Puppo makes everything look as dark as possible throughout so that quite often even characters’ faces are shrouded in darkness. Rather than ineptitude, this seems more like an artistic experiment that went badly wrong. It becomes ridiculously distracting, and it certainly doesn’t increase the atmosphere when you’re struggling to see what’s happening.
The other three girls set out to get their friend back, and we get the usual internet searching plus – get this – a visit to a library, though this could be the film’s only novel aspect. The internet searching is made far easier because these girls all seem to know each other’s passwords. Then again, there’s also a strange bit when someone thinks they are at the wrong address because they didn’t see any cars in the driveway. Presumably he’s never heard of a garage. Of course this kind of thing wouldn’t matter too much if the horror aspect was effective. However, all we get is a load of extremely telegraphed jump scares and a random series of hallucination sequences which quickly lose any effect because you know there’s little danger of a nasty payoff, while the Slender Man remains frustratingly ill-defined and, though the sight of a tall thin figure with no face is initially eerie, he shows up far too often. Javier Botet, who has bravely used a medical condition to his advantage Rondo Hatton-style and now has a successful career playing monsters, is mostly reduced to just waving his arms about. There’s a unsettling bit when the dimensions of the library seem to change, and in the same scene one character also seems to be left with no face which is an idea which always creeps me out, but it all quickly becomes rather boring, a very pale shadow of its many obvious inspirations like A Nightmare On Elm Street, Candyman and of course The Ring – or should I say Ringu – and I soon wished I was watching one of those again. And when the final act comes, it’s ridiculously rushed and has been so obviously edited down that a mild ‘surprise’ has little effect.
These girls are meant to be good friends but constantly snipe at each other, while the obsession with making everything as dark as possible reaches truly absurd proportions when none of them seem to like turning lights on. The CGI is often ’90’s quality – check out [and then laugh at] the tentacles that spring out of Slender Man at one point, and talking of laughter, I has to stop myself chuckling out loud during a make-out scene that goes badly wrong. There are times when a certain creepiness does take effect, with music composers Brandon Campbell and Ramin Djawadi doing what they can [well at least this review has allowed me to slightly praise a Djawadi score, something I never thought I’d do], but these don’t last long because there’s little suspense building and something stupid is soon said or done to ruin any effect. Director Sylvain White’s previous horror film was I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, which should give you an idea of the quality of this one [and this is coming from someone who, unlike many it seems, rather enjoyed the first two entries in that series]. Scenes tend to be edited together better here [well, the ones that the studio doesn’t appear to have mutilated], but horror is definitely not White’s forte, while he also seems to have been content with performances which are full of stilted, unnatural line readings. Joey King was also pretty awful in The Conjuring and Wish Upon, and one wanders why she keeps being cast in films like this. The only one major cast member who makes a good impression is Annalise Basso [Oculus], so of course she gets less screen time than the others.
There are sometimes signs of the film that could have been, and it’s very likely that Slender Man would have been decent in its original cut. If they ever release it I’ll certainly give it a watch and will report back. However, I think that a more subtle approach overall would have worked much better in this particular case. A few days ago I watched the documentary Beware The Slenderman about the afore-mentioned stabbing case, and despite being overlong and not focusing enough on the victim for my liking, I found it to be much more unsettling and even scary than this half-assed movie. I recommend that you do the same, rather than pay for a ticket to see Slender Man. The more people flock to these films, the more Hollywood studios will keep churning out them out with little thought or care.