★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Sylvian White and written by David Birke.
There are those films that need no exposition, and there are those that need a-plenty. The 2018 pre-teen fright fest, Slenderman, is a film that requires ample elucidation. Unfortunately, it contains little to none (read: none). While Slenderman does have some partially admirable elements, it also contains a bag-o’-problems.
The Slenderman film capitalizes on teen fascination with the 2009 internet mythos around the “Slendman” character. For the uninitiated, Slederman came about as a creepypasta internet meme created by Something Awful forums user Eric Knudsen (AKA “Victor Surge”). Allegedly, Mr. Surge, inspired by equal parts H.P. Lovecraft and the 1979 horror classic, Phantasm, began doctoring photos of Slenderman lurking over, around, and generally near, children. At its core, the Slenderman myth is an online and very collaborative effort steeped in our ancient collective fears and the relative innocence of children.
The film, set in 2018 in small-town Massachusetts, focuses on four high-school age girls, Wren, Chloe, Hallie, and Katie. Early in the film, the four girls run in to their male counterparts who disclose that while they’d like to hang out and do “teen stuff” they have something better and secret to attend to that evening. The girls, naturally intrigued, begin to speculate and wonder about the secret boy happenings and their lack of invitation. The girls strike out on their own and concoct their own girl shindig, sans boys. Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) eventually discloses that the boys’ secret happenings inexplicably involves summoning Slenderman. A couple Google searches here, and a couple mouse clicks there, and Katie (Annalise Basso) stumbles on to the video that apparently summons THE Slenderman. The video comprised of grainy black and white images paired with strange non-sequiturs, and clearly a rip-off (or homage) the Ring, puts the girls in to a hypnotic and paranoid state.
The following day, as a part of routine school outing to a graveyard (?) Katie goes missing and the mystery of Slenderman begins to unfold. In a possession by numbers effort, Chloe is taken over by Slenderman, Wren begins to go crazy with her efforts to unsuccessfully research his origins, Hallie’s little sister Lizzie becomes infected by the Slenderman curse, and Hallie the hero is left to sleuth apart what makes Slenderman tick. All the while, nothing scary or remotely frightening unfolds on the screen — literally nothing. Across multiple encounters with Slenderman Hallie discovers that the only way to satiate his sneaky ways is to offer up a sacrifice. Naturally, Hallie decides that she is the glue to binds the team together and she’s willing to give herself up for the betterment of children across rural Massachusetts. She scoots out to the woods and voila’ sacrifice completed, and all is well with her little sister, the school kids, and their Lovecraftian community.
Slenderman has piles of problems. The lighting is so dark throughout the entire film that it is near to impossible to deduce what’s developing on the screen. Irrespective of where the characters are placed — school, hospital, their homes, or the woods — there’s a dark grey patina laid over a constant dark black background. Whether this was a conscious directorial choice or not, it’s safe to say that it was a poor one at best. In addition to the questionable filming techniques, the Slenderman crew also opted for some questionable use of sound. Specifically, the entire film, front-to-back, is layered with a faux spooky ambience. Not music mind you, but a constant and ceaseless faux spooky ambience. It can only be described as a “boy who cried wolf” device that is so ever-present it eventually has no discernible or creepy impacts on the viewer. All that said, Slenderman’s biggest fault is that the myth is never really explained or explored. His origin is unclear. His connection to other similar myths around the globe is unclear. And Slenderman’s wants and needs are unclear. Here’s to hoping that these vagaries are not cleared up in Slenderman II, but you know that’s probably headed our way.