Slender Man is a 2018 horror film about the Slender Man, the mysterious supernatural being who appears in online photographs and videos and who …. well, I’m not sure what it is that he does exactly. Apparently, he targets children and teenagers and he uses his long arms to either abduct them or drive them crazy or maybe take them to a different realm of existence. Who knows? That’s actually probably a part of the appeal of Slender Man. He can pretty much be whoever or whatever anyone wants him to be.
In this Massachusetts-set film, four teenage girl decided to summon the Slender Man. Their ceremony works but it turns out that summoning a demonic figure who hunts children is not as good an idea as the girls originally assumed. Who would have guessed it, right? After one of the girls disappear, the other three try to figure out how to deal with Slender Man. It all leads to death, insanity. and panic. Yay!
Slender Man is one of those films where nearly every scene is severely underlit and it’s often difficult to actually tell what’s happening in each scene. This has become a very popular technique in recent years, one that some directors have embraced almost to the point of absolute absurdity. (Watch any horror-themed program on Netflix and you’ll see what I’m talking about.) I imagine the idea is to create a creepy and shadowy atmosphere and to keep you wondering about what might be lurking in the darkness. There’s nothing wrong with that, if the film itself is genuinely scary. However, in a film like Slender Man, the underlit look feels rather lazy. It’s as if the director and the cinematographer realized that the film’s story was never going to make sense so they specifically turned off the light to try to keep us from noticing. Instead of trying to improve the script or maybe come up with something interesting for Slender Man to do, they instead did the cinematic equivalent of shoving the audience into a dark room, locking the door, and then shouting boo in the vain hope of tricking them into being scared.
Of course, a huge part of the problem with Slender Man is that real life is often scarier than anything that will ever appear in a movie. In 2014, two teenage girls really did stab one of their friends and they did attempt to blame their crime on Slender Man, whom they claimed they were tying to impress. This led to a moral panic, one in which parents worried that internet memes were turning children into sociopaths. My own personal opinion is that if your child is stabbing one of their friends, they have problems that go far beyond anything they may have seen online. Moral panics are a lot like Slender Man, in that they can be whatever the participants want them to be. In this case, the panic over internet memes allowed parents the luxury of not reflecting on whether or not their own bad parenting has anything to do with the actions of their children. “No,” parents could say, “it wasn’t that we raised a sociopath! It’s that some anonymous user posted a silly picture of Slender Man peaking out from behind a tree!” It is much easier to demand that a website be taken down or censored than to actually ask yourself why your children would be 1) stupid enough to believe in Slender Man in the first place and 2) eager to impress him.
Though Sony Pictures always denied it, it’s obvious that the Slender Man movie was made to capitalize on the publicity surrounding the Slender Man trial. Unfortunately, the film itself just isn’t scary. It’s poorly paced, poorly acted, and way too dark. No wonder Slender Man hasn’t been seen in a while….