“He Gets in Your Head Like a Virus…” – Wren
Releasing years after the internet icon had long since passed his prime popularity, the first mainstream film for the supernatural entity, Slender Man, was released to little praise from critics and audiences alike in 2018, not only due to the film’s abysmal quality, but also as a result of the negative publicity surrounding the Creepypasta creation following the attempted murder of a twelve-year-old Wisconsin girl in 2014, which was supposedly catalysed by the urban legend. The hostile reception to the character got so severe that production companies, Sony and Screen Gems, were reportedly nervous about releasing the film, subsequently leading the companies to release the occult horror with hardly any promotion and no early critic screenings. And yet, in spite of all those difficulties, the actual film is nothing but forgettable as Slender Man sands away virtually all of the mystery, dread and subtlety that made the character so intriguing, to begin with.
Plot Summary: In a small town in Massachusetts, a group of teenage friends fascinated by the internet lore of the Slender Man attempt to disprove his existence by summoning him with an online ritual. But, one week later, after a member of their group mysteriously disappears, the teens begin to realise that the urban legend of the Slender Man is all too real…
Directed by Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard, The Losers, The Mark of the Angels – Miserere). The character of Slender Man first appeared on the Something Awful forums in 2009, emerging in a series of photographs edited to depict a tall, humanoid entity unnoticed by others but almost always surrounded by, or near, children. Since then, many have speculated regarding the origins of the internet icon, the earliest reference to a similar creature being in Der Großmann, a German folk tale written in 1702. But, of course, none of this was used for the film. Instead, Slender Man simply ignores all of the character’s rich history and origin, founded through the Marble Hornets web series, the fan-made video games and the bottomless trove of fan fiction, in favour of telling a formulaic and derivative story surrounding a group of teens watching an ‘ominous’ video online before then vanishing into the nearby forest one-by-one.
Naturally, this issue could’ve been concealed with a strong cast and well-written characters, but while Julia Goldani Telles, Joey King, Jaz Sinclair and Annalise Basso try to make their presence felt, especially King as Wren, a soulful waif sporting a punk choker, and Sinclair as Chloe, who beams with energy until she watches in unflinching horror as Slender Man records himself entering her house. The teens are so poorly defined that they are practically interchangeable, so when Slender Man starts abducting the teens, who eventually begin to form a plan and intend to protect each other, it essentially means nothing to the audience as they are entirely disposable protagonists.
The film’s cinematography by Luca Del Puppo fortunately, fairs a little better, as the camerawork allows for a reasonable amount of attractive shots, particularly in the first act. Nevertheless, this is soon spoilt by the film’s atrocious colour palette, as there isn’t a single shot throughout the runtime not drenched in aggressively drab blues and greys. By that same token, even though I strongly subscribe to the belief that darkness effectively lends itself to building suspense within the horror genre, shots in Slender Man are often layered with so many coats of black that it becomes almost impossible to tell what’s occurring in some scenes, an annoyance that is only made worse by the film’s pitiful CG effects, repeatedly uninteresting set pieces and collection of deafening jump-scares.
Surprisingly composed by Brandon Campbell and the acclaimed Ramin Djawadi, the original score for Slender Man manages to be slightly eerier than the visuals through its heavy use of string instruments, creating as daunting of an atmosphere as it possibly can through tracks like Him and Library. The sound design also adds to the film’s soundscape through the use of thundering cicada buzzing and menacing woodland ambience, both of which are efficacious, even if repetitive.
Considering that the Slender Man character is infamous for tragically invoking an attempted murder in real life (in addition to being blamed for many underaged suicides). It’s almost inconceivable that a high-risk film such as this could also be so inaccurate when it comes to the character it’s based upon, as the mythology for this incarnation of the mysterious, otherworldy entity almost seems to be fabricated on the fly as Slender Man possesses multiple abilities he was never known to have had previously, including mind control, reality/technology manipulation and more.
In summary, the inherent creepiness of Slender Man never comes across in this cinematic interpretation, which despite having a runtime of only ninety-one minutes, feels as if it lingers on for over three hours. That being said, it’s not as if more resources would’ve improved the film, as the main fault of Slender Man lies within its portrayal of the titular character, with the filmmakers completely losing sight of what made the internet icon so unnerving in the first place; the trepidation in what you don’t see him do. And, as a result, the film gives you plenty of reasons to put your hands over your eyes, but almost no incentive to peek through your fingers. Rating: 2/10.