Slender Man (2018)

Four teen besties living in a sleepy Massachusetts town, whose names you’ll quickly forget — Wren (Joey King), Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) and Katie (Annalise Basso) — gather one evening to trade the latest goss, until the night turns to spooky business, when they’re compelled to look up the urban myth of Slender Man.

Legend suggests that the towering, long-limbed gentleman can be summoned from the woods, after which he may take a victim or leave them mentally disturbed for life. For some reason, this all sounds like a great idea to the highly susceptible group and after watching the latest Nine Inch Nails-inspired video clip — sorry, summoning video — they all get mild chills and leave it there. Thing is, ye olde creepy thin man just isn’t gonna do that.

After Katie goes poof on a school field trip, (Kylo) Wren’s suspicions turn towards the thickets and whether Spider-Man or whatever man would trade Katie back. This attempt goes to Hell pretty quickly, because Chloe breaks the rules and tries to flee (I don’t know, maybe she needed to use the loo), coming face to face with the faceless phantom (who’s played by Javier Botet). I can’t really tell you what happens from this moment on, not because it’d spoil things, but mostly because it was so dead-in-the-water by this point, I may have begun imagining a better film.

Yes, Slender Man is pretty bad. If you pay attention to such things, Rotten Tomatoes has it sitting at an incredibly low 7% and IMDb users have rallied the feature towards an embarrassing 3/10. This review isn’t going to convince you of some underrated gem, as much as I’d have loved to — it just isn’t that movie. I will, however, straight up defend the key cast — I truly believe they batted above this movie and others of its ilk.

… not very bright are you?

Joey King, The Conjuring (2013), continues to be a good sport, putting her reputation on the line after last year’s similarly D.O.A. affair in Wish Upon (2017), which has virtually the exact same narrative pattern as this one — teens gather, conjure up some horror stuff, weird shit happens, a few fatalities, an attempt to turn it around, twist, bleak end. Sorry, I should’ve said spoiler alert.

Julia Goldani Telles, Most Likely to Murder (2018), commits to a thankless support role that makes me curious to see what she could do with some real character development. She gets closest to showing so with an awkward date scene, but lest we forget we’re in PG-13 territory here, so no hanky panky to wake up the sleepy audience.

Really, as I’ve been hinting at here, the big culprit of Slender Man’s failure is in inept, truly uninspired scripting by David Birke, which is perplexing, considering the different possibilities of the source material, and that his previous feature Elle (2016), while a strange story, was at least original in its approach. The scattershot narrative might also have something to do with the fact that the movie was heavily cut by the time it hit theatres, violent scenes emitted due to the studio’s fears over public backlash (what happened to that scene in the trailer where a teenage girl is seen gouging her eyes out?)

Starting out as a ‘creepypasta’ (essentially a modern horror legend on the internet) created by Eric Knudsen under the pseudonym Victor Surge, Slender Man grew into pop culture, peaking with a video game and reaching infamy in 2014 when two 12-year-old girls almost fatally stabbed their friend, supposedly to lure the obviously fictional boogeyman.

In this film’s (mild) defense, by the time Screen Gems had a stab at the material (sorry, bad pun), there was already a HBO documentary about the real-life attack called Beware the Slenderman (2016), a found footage take, Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story (2015), and a good sprinkling of low budget attempts such as Slender (2016) and The Slender Man (2013). So basically, unless Screen Gems were going to commit to bettering all these entries, which excluding the doco, would surely be accomplishable, there wasn’t much more to be done other than throwing additional funds into the project and at least making sure it was frightening, relevant and marketable.

‘ … I don’t think this video’s a phone-y.’

I’ve had the displeasure of watching two of director Sylvain White’s hack-jobs in I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006), an unnecessary attempt to cash-in on a dead concept, and 2010’s The Losers, which lived up to its name, but not its premise. I will say the through-line between those movies and this one is that White does show brief flashes of inspiration — with Slender Man it’s the more surreal nightmarish moments where the movie admittedly comes alive. A dream sequence in which Hallie appears to be pregnant, and has tentacle-like things crawling out of her bump, is just random and whacko, but at that boring midpoint of the film … welcome. It wouldn’t surprise me if White is eventually tapped to do another remake attempt of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but I sincerely hope he doesn’t take it.

White did do a great job on teaming up with cinematographer Luca Del Puppo, Emelie (2015), and sound designer Javier Bennassar, If I Stay (2014), both of whom seem to be having fun with creating a muted, moody atmosphere. Bennassar even borrows the signature Slender Man bells from the video game, which will certainly perk up the ears of anyone familiar with it and, if they aren’t checking their watches, might even fill them with some kind of dread. Just on that, at a slender 93 minutes, the whole affair is mercifully short.

Unlike the so-bad-it’s-good hilarity of Truth or Dare (2018), another poor PG-13 entry into the horror genre, Slender Man just doesn’t offer enough to warrant a ticket. It’s the kind of thing you’d probably be okay with if you’re in the sweet spot of being a preteen on a first date and kinda don’t care what’s on at the cinema, but for seasoned horror fans, it’ll just leave you feeling empty. That said, whether by Sony or an independent, it wouldn’t surprise me if we’ve yet to see the last of the scary, slim, suit-wearing spook on screen.

1.5 / 5 – Poor

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Slender Man is released through Sony Pictures Australia