The Slender Man. 2013. Directed by A.J. Meadows. Screenplay by Meadows & Jeremy Kirk.
Starring Adam Hartley, Madeleine Rouse, Eric Warrington, Bill Finkbiner, Colleen Malone, Sarah Baker, Collin Cudney, Kyle Cudney, Kylie Cudney, & Alex Eads. Super Movie Bros.
Not Rated. 78 minutes.
I have a special affinity for Slender Man. Mostly because when he became hugely popular, his creepy character gave way to my own ideas as an author, one that prompted me to start writing a collection of short stories. The idea of a ‘tulpa’ is something that a friend and I began wondering about in relation to Slender Man. Effectively, if so many people believed in something, is it possible they could somehow will it into being, into tangible reality? Of course that led me off on ideas about Christianity, monsters, and everything in between, in that those could be ideas somehow willed into a corporeal state by the belief of many. My short stories have nothing to do with Slender Man. However, his popularity and the many, many endless fan fiction pieces about him gave me a spark. For that, I’m both eternally grateful, as well as eternally in awe.
There is something undeniably unsettling about this entity. His look alone is enough to inspire terror. The Marble Hornets series on YouTube did a fantastic job on a shoestring budget bringing Slender Man’s story onto a visual canvas, outside of the often creepy photo manipulations users on creepypasta and other websites created. Several current projects both completed and in development are also using this character as a template for horror drama. Here, in the aptly titled The Slender Man, director A.J. Meadows employs the found footage sub-genre in order to weave together several stories, including a daughter digging into her father’s personal belongings, a private investigator, and a grieving father who’s child mysteriously disappeared while they were together. These stories are decent enough. However, this screenplay suffers not from lack of direction in either Meadows’ capabilities nor in the movement of the action, but mostly the found footage here (a sub-genre of which I’m actually a fan) is annoyingly used to the point where the technique grates on the nerves. There are moments of genuine fright, though they aren’t long lived because the camera work here is too messy even for found footage. All in all, a half decent bit of work. Just nothing to write home about.
The best part about this movie for me is the multi-plot angle. Always a fan of screenplays that use elements of different genres to open up an intricate set of plots (Psycho, Proxy, et cetera), Meadows and Jeremy Kirk combine the supernatural elements of Slender Man as an urban legend entity with a very human, almost crime-thriller element. Without spoiling too much, Slender Man affects real people here. He drives a father searching for his missing son to incredibly dangerous lengths, which in turn affects other living people; other children and their families, the brother-sister duo investigating strange newspaper articles their writer father stashed away, and the private investigator wrapped up in the whole debacle. So for all the film’s faults, Kirk and Meadows instil the whole story with something human. This is something I admire about supernatural horror. Often, these movies take us into a completely other world than our own reality. In direct opposition, there are supernatural horror films that do their best to stay rooted in reality so that the otherworldly aspects of the screenplay come off with more weight. Supernatural stories can absolutely be scary without that, but something extra eerie attaches itself to a movie when the ghostly (or whatever) elements feel dangerously close to the living world. If anything, The Slender Man attempts to keep us grounded in the tangible drama its plots produce.
Not huge on the acting. Parts are a little cringe worthy, others are mainly hard on the ears when we have to deal with unnecessary screaming (along with the poor audio often inherent with true-blooded found footage). The private investigator character is solid, just wasn’t huge on the actor and his delivery, though not all of his performance is bad; in the finale I found he did well and conveyed an appropriate sense of fear necessary to keep us stuck to the screen watching his character work through the darkened trails then the even darker abandoned house in the woods. Ultimately, he serves his purpose. Moreover, the enthusiasm in the actors is severely lacking in some of the most crucial points. For instance, the main female protagonist feels fairly heartless most of the time in her energy, except for those scenes where she insists on busting eardrums (and not in the tradition of great Scream Queens; this is just unbearable). The guy I enjoyed most was Hank (Eric Warrington). Both his character and performance are interesting. He has a scream or two as well, but his are warranted, and they’re less shrill than those of Emma (Madeleine Rouse). But really it’s the grief and anguish he expresses that makes this terrified, desperate father into a solid addition to the story. His actions are the catalyst for an investigation, which then folds over into the story of the brother and sister. If he were even just mediocre the character works, yet Warrington – someone I’ve literally never seen in anything before (and I’ve seen over 4,000 films) – is able to reach out of the screen and grab us, never letting us forget the horrific disappearance of his boy, no matter how unlikeable his character becomes throughout. Warrington saves the otherwise forgettable cast.
While nothing extraordinary, The Slender Man is a mediocre found footage horror that will probably clench your butthole once or twice. One thing that truly irks me is that people online, who have illegally downloaded this film, complain about it because there are portions which are too dark, or things like that. Possibly that’s got a large deal to do with the fact you don’t have a proper copy. On DVD, the movie is certainly dark, but not incomprehensible. And yes, like many found footage efforts this one has its fair share of scenes in dimly lit rooms, forest trails, so on. But again, none of those are so dark or shaky that it’s utterly useless. Never once. Sometimes the found footage technique is a bit too shaky for my liking and some of the camera work could’ve definitely been improved upon. Still, I can’t fault the movie too much because found footage isn’t meant to be steady or perfectly framed, it’s meant to convey the reality and visceral terror of a horror movie situation.
Suffice to say if you don’t enjoy found footage as a whole, you won’t enjoy this one. Or any other one, for that matter. So just like romantic movies and Wes Anderson films aren’t for every person, but rather a specific audience, found footage flicks aren’t for those who find the genre tiring. It is for horror fans that like the raw, gritty feel of the technique, and people who get immersed in a film because of its true to life qualities. Again, this is far from a great horror. It’s also not complete trash.
All the same, I’m still waiting with bated breath for the ultimate vision of Slender Man onscreen. This is not it, though it’s okay for the time being.