Written by David Birke
Directed by Sylvain White
So THAAAAAAT’S why Slender Man fell victim to Sony’s unceremonious release date bump, attempted sell-off, drop-when-no-one’s-looking treatment.
I know. How could something birthed from viral internet memes turn out so poorly? Those in the mood for some “creepypasta” terror should stick to Reddit or let your greasy-haired uncle Vincenzo allude to his nefarious mob connections over fresh gravy-tossed linguine. Sylvain White’s big screen unveiling of “Slenderman” – aka Jack Skellington meets the Pied Piper – surely won’t appease Slenderheads, horror diehards, or anyone who enjoys watching a properly lit movie. Also, it’s “Slenderman” as one word, right? So why is Sony’s title Slender Man – like creators didn’t even *care* about “authenticity” – and why does this tidbit BOTHER ME SO DAMN MUCH.
“How do you do, fellow kids,” says Steve Buscemi’s private detective character from 30 Rock in disguise. “Doesn’t this new Slender Mans movie sound hashtag spoopy?!”
In David Birke’s script, based on “Victor Surge’s” infamous photoshopped ghoul, four girls summon Slender Man (Javier Botet, duh). Wren (Joey King), Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair), and Katie (Annalise Basso). Like a scene straight out of The Ring (legit, didn’t we actually see this in Rings), White’s four slumber party kiddies play a video link with “SUMMON” in the title. Creepy images flash some A Clockwork Orange/The Forest Of Lost Souls hybrid shit, three bells toll, and every onlooker “feels” something. Then, a week later, Katie goes missing while on a school field trip. Could Slender Man have taken her? Yes, because this is a generic-ass paranormal blueprint where characters refuse to believe the ultimate evil they tampered with can’t possibly be real until the last moment.
Sylvain White, why couldn’t you just make The Losers 2 like we all wanted?!
Basic entry-level grip: pitch-black darkness does not equate to instant tension. Can shadowy formulations and manipulations of daytime sun vs. midnight dimness heighten terror? Absolutely, just ask James Wan. The problem with Slender Man is that not only are most woodland setpieces shrouded in blackness like your television’s visual settings just wonked out, but Slender Man himself dons an equally charred suit. What *should* be paralyzing reveals are barely recognizable on the screen, whether Slender Man appears as another crooked background tree or his up-close profile monochromatically blurs with drab cinematography. Here’s a masterclass in how *not* to shoot your *hopefully* super-dark, super-scary horror flick. People actually need to SEE the damn scares.
Onto scripting, which advances under the assumption that audiences don’t understand basic horror formulas. Scenes feel written by an undercover cop posing as a high schooler who totally saw one horror movie one time and now brags about being a hardcore “horror fan.” “Ok, so Twitter Poll,” SAYS A CHARACTER ALOUD TO HER FRIENDS BEFORE, YOU KNOW, ASKING A QUESTION LIKE A FREE-THINKING HUMAN. Slender Man is a cat-and-mouse game of Wren giving her friends *strict* instructions in order to survive, her friends not listening, and everything getting worse. Clockwork. I mean, Hallie just wants to go on a date with Tommy (Alex Fitzalan) for gosh sakes! Slender Man’s looming imprisonment can wait (no, really, that’s a plot device).
Character actions account for strike two, strike three and up to strike seventy-nine (at least), bumbling through an inevitable plague of predictability that goes “high school horror” to an almost ignorant degree (why will no one listen).
Javier Botet fills his usual role as “spectral lurker” by embodying Slender Man (and a red herring doctor cameo), because, really – who else are you going to enlist? Unfortunately, he’s just not scary. Hissing cicadas and crackling tree branches mark Slender Man’s entrance no matter the location, but as for his faceless businessman of death…meh? A wee bit CGI embossed. Also, both under and overused somehow? Underused in the sense of figure-outline distance teases followed by nonthreatening face-to-face camera frames. Overused because what the hell were those mock internet evidence photos with Slender Man choppily overlayed into children’s events? And that online repository of Slender Man snatch-away clips? Like an Adult Swim spoof on Ghost Hunters or something.
Take Tommy and Hallie’s schizo-boyfriend makeout interruption as a prime example of how fear is fumbled on repeat. Hallie, pinned to a couch, witnessing her crush’s face shift uncontrollably like he’s stuck on fast-forward, yet all we see is some Truth Or Dare Snapchat filter horror. For shame.
Alas, surreal psychotic breakdowns between the girls *would* do well in a better-fleshed production. Wren dashes through library bookcases before Slender Man elongates a single ongoing stretch like some Haunted Mansion optical trick. Hallie notices she’s pregnant with a Slender Baby during one particularly spiky dream. Hallie trips satanic balls and visualizes her limbs strewn about Slender Man’s woods before vines slither out of her orifices. These are, admittedly, the film’s highest and most exciting genre moments – for the frustratingly short duration they weasel into focus with no context. Wren throws out a blanket rule that gives Slender Man carte blanche and Birke’s script takes full advantage (“no one knows why he tortures some and takes the rest”). Why did Slender Man take Katie so soon? Why is he just torturing the rest? This Slender Man seems like a busy evil deity being summoned around the globe – isn’t he on a time crunch?
Slender Man is impervious to cinematic retention and helplessly uninspired. An almost visually blotted out black-and-white dumpster fire that wastes an unhinged performance from chattering Joey King (and nothing else). If you want Slenderman horror? Go with James Moran’s Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story. It’s by no means a *good* movie, but it’s The Conjuring compared to – *gestures around in disgust* – this. Creepypasta devotees shouldn’t expect storytelling on par with even the internet’s most poorly typed short stories, nor should casual moviegoers expect anything more than a base idea that “Oh, hey, Slender Man sure is a weird-looking dude!” Too drab, too underdeveloped, too simple in construct, too downright insulting by way of genre convention. All that for some shadows and mean-as-hell trees? Didn’t M. Night already murder the whole “trees are evil” game?
Oh, and Sony’s bullshit means of addressing a true-life Milwaukee incident where an online urban legend lead to actual physical harm is…not great. Glance-over at best, pandering at worst. Almost like it’s an afterthought. Pranced out while you wish Slender Man would end for the twentieth after suffering through every dead-air second of its tremendously long running time – WAIT, IT’S ONLY 90 MINUTES LONG?!
This. ‘Effing. Movie.
The only thing being summoned in Slender Man is a 90-minute case of the Zzzzzzzzzzz’s. Life is short. Don’t waste it.