Another day, another hour and a half I paid to waste. To be fair, I was never overly interested in Slender Man. As someone who is a lover of horror (with a particular soft spot for a good, spooky legend) this one just never struck my fancy. It seems very… floppy. There is no real solid narrative about Slender Man; he’s a tall guy who takes kids or sometimes just likes to freak out people who are near the woods. His habits and endgame seem to be whatever is needed for whichever short-story of which he finds himself the subject. While I do understand the use of such a character — like fan-fiction it’s easier to start writing using content you don’t have to create from scratch — I like things to be ever-so-slightly more clean cut than that. I want rules; I want a purpose. At the very least I want a monster I can get to know, not one who says he’ll call but really means he’ll text, or eat my face when he’s “known” to have a taste for knees. Maybe it’s my need for a little control with my chaos, but due to his slippery nature, Slender Man was on the fringe of my horror focus. Alas, I am a horror junkie; after a little reading, I thought I basically knew what I was in for, so I bought my ticket. I think I would rather have stayed home and continued to read the creepypasta.
I am going to try hard to explain the plot of Slender Man to you, but if you come away still confused, well, I really can’t take the blame. The overall idea is, there is the Slender Man, and he kidnaps children, or teens, or makes you insane if you see him, but sometimes you don’t even have to see him to start going crazy? Slender Man sticks around because of a not-as-good Ring style clip that gets shared via the interwebs. There are rules to follow when watching the short video, which I assumed would matter, but as far as I can tell they don’t, at all. A few hours after viewing the clip, the watcher starts to experience strange things: visions, nightmares, hallucinations, your standard internet-video-induced stuff. Now, supposedly, you can get Slender Man off your tail by sacrificing “something you love,” and without giving anything away, this seems to copy The Ring pretty closely as well. During the movie, Slender Man is compared to many other creatures who lure and steal away children by making them WANT to come with him, presumably by some sort of hypnosis or mind-control induced from seeing the video; now forget all of that because it apparently doesn’t matter either. In the end, I’m not entirely sure what Slender Man’s goal is, besides just causing trouble. He doesn’t seem overly sinister; supposedly he makes children want to willingly go with him (though we see the opposite in the movie). Maybe he’s just lonely? I really wish I could be more clear, but that would require spoilers. I will say, the idea behind this movie seems to draw HEAVILY from a lot of plots we’ve already seen. This wouldn’t usually upset me, as it’s a basic premise that generally results in an at-least-okay movie, but this time it just falls flat.
The acting in Slender Man isn’t terrible; just the script. The actors and actresses do what they can with what they are given, and it goes a long way towards disguising rather dull or awkward lines. The writers don’t seem to have much of a grasp on how actual people interact; the high-school-hallway banter is cringy at best, and I’ve never been so uncomfortable watching a supposedly happy family have dinner together. What little details are given about each of the main characters’ families is clunkily thrown out there in conversation that doesn’t seem natural for long-time friends to be having. Instead of letting us draw our own conclusions the writers seem rushed to get the information out so they can move on to the lackluster “scary” bits. Again, the actors are all pretty darn good. There is emotion when there should be, and it is always conveyed genuinely. I couldn’t help but feel like we were watching the rough draft version of the script that wasn’t intended to be used, but somehow got switched with the polished final cut. This all may sound very harsh, but keep in mind, this is coming from someone who adores B horror films and cheesy dialogue. I just don’t expect these sort of things from a bigger title with a budget. It’s a disappointment.
Now for an upper, because I think we all need it at this point. The cinematography in this movie is fantastic. There is an abundance of unique filming techniques, and it was enough to bring me back from the edge of my seat just a bit (I was very eager to leave). While a lot of the “scarier” moments are fairly commonplace and expected, the way they are shot made all the difference. If not for the stellar camera work, I would have been willing to label this film a horror-comedy. Now, mind you, not every shot is spared. During more than one scene that I imagine was meant to be quite frightening… everyone in the half-empty theater was left laughing; I doubt this was the desired reaction. Again, my hand inches ever-so-closer to that “comedy” stamp, but I’m holding off. I applaud the various styles used in Slender Man. I think it makes up for a lot of my overall disappointment.
Another good mark towards Slender Man is its soundtrack. The music goes a long way in keeping some semblance of tension and eeriness in an otherwise dry film. I love the heavy use of strings in a work that is meant to unsettle you; I get chills from that classic horror crescendo. Thankfully, where a rushed story and limited character development doesn’t leave you with the ability to reach any attachment to the cast, you can always cheer for the cellist. When otherwise bland moments would have faltered, I think the music really saves it and takes you to that place of suspense. Finally, something I can REALLY gush about; the real star of Slender Man is far and away it’s sound effects. The cacophony of trees swaying and groaning is bone-deep; you can feel yourself lost in the woods, smothering in the darkness and desperation. I happen to live on the edge of a few acres of forest, and I was giving my trees some sideways glances when we got home. I’m not entirely sure how to describe the noise they chose for Slender Man to make. I would say it sounds like the world’s most massive spider, skittering after you at an unholy pace that no one could ever hope to escape. Mix that with what I imagine the sound of dry skin flaking off is if it was amped up to a deafening decibel, and I think that’s as accurate as I can get. Whatever they used to produce it, I’ve decided anything that makes that noise has no business anywhere near me. These main points along with the exaggerated snapping of twigs and the sound of cicadas, (which for me is usually both calming and deeply unsettling; yay summer, boo THOUSANDS of bugs) and Slender Man managed to steep itself quite deeply in the auditory-horror category. Which I guess would be like reverse ASMR?
Don’t get me wrong; after all of this, I still don’t hate Slender Man. I think it needed to be a B horror, something that was released on streaming platforms; I shouldn’t have had to spend $15 a ticket to see it. This would be a great $5-bin-at-Walmart horror; I very likely would have enjoyed it more. In this case, it goes beyond “a little disappointing” and falls into “were they actually trying?” I’m sure there will be people who love Slender Man. I’m sure there will be an entire cult following of this movie because of the audience he has online. But, between checking my watch, having laughable scenes that I’m positive weren’t meant to be so, and the number of people who jumped out of their chairs to flee as soon as the lights came up, I can confidently say, this was not a good movie. If you REALLY like Slender Man, if the idea of him strikes that scary nerve with you, there is a definite possibility that you’ll be able to enjoy this one. To everyone else out there, well, I warned you.