Does any urban legend have as fascinating (and disturbing) a history as Slender Man? The terrifying creature was created by Eric Knudsen as part of a 2009 online Photoshop contest and, from there, it took on a life of its own – literally, if you ask some people. There have been real-life rituals and even murders committed in the name of the Slender Man, primarily by children unable to discern fiction from reality. Having said that, there are actually adults who believe that this creature has been manifested by the power of public belief and now haunts people around the world. Or something. I don’t know; I’m not one of them.
No matter what one does or doesn’t believe, it should come as no surprise that the Slender Man now has his own horror movie. Not only is his appearance and legend prime mining material for horror films, but his popularity and the controversy surrounding the figure lends itself to consumer curiosity. And, as a wise man once said, controversy creates cash. So . . . here we are. But as easy a slam dunk as all of this may make a film seem, there are no guarantees. Director Sylvain White (The Losers, Stomp the Yard) steps up to the plate to try to adapt this real-life terror into a fictional financial success.
And here’s where irony enters the picture, as it’s hard to overlook the fact that a film based on a character created as an exercise in imagination is one of the least-imaginative horror films – or any other type of film – to come along in recent years. I liked White’s The Losers, but that film had the benefit of being based on source material that had been fully fleshed out in comic book form. Here, left to his own devices, White and screenwriter David Birke (who also wrote 13 Sins, which I enjoyed tremendously, so he’s capable) struggle to construct a narrative with any meat on it, whatsoever.
So many pivotal moments (if you can call any moment in a film as uneventful as this one “pivotal”) occur simply due to the characters taking arbitrary actions with no justification other than “just because”. At one point, the dialogue even says as much, which made me do a mental double-take. There are simply no concrete motivations for much of the action that takes place during the film. For example, the entire mess comes about simply because the leads look up the legend of Slender Man and watch a cursed video (I’ll come back to that). That’s it. There’s nothing else to it. Exciting, right? It’s common after something unfortunate happens to someone due to their lack of foresight to hear others say that “they asked for it”. In this film, the characters don’t metaphorically ask for it; they literally do. It’s among the laziest launching pads for a story that I can recall.
Speaking of lazy, yes, it’s a cursed online video that sets the events of the film in motion. Sound familiar? If so, that’s because Slender Man makes a thinly-veiled effort to model itself after The Ring (find that #ThrowbackThursday here), and it’s not content with only using the video hook; the rest of the film largely follows The Ring‘s formula, as well. Look, there are worse films to use as inspiration than the greatest horror movie ever made, but Slender Man is not a well-crafted homage, rather existing as a poorly-constructed ripoff that lacks everything that made The Ring the enduring classic that it is to this day – namely such characteristics as intelligence, suspense, complexity, authenticity, ingenuity, a great cast, scares, an engrossing narrative, endearing characters, and everything else that audiences look for in a memorable and resonant horror film.
White lacks the ability to frame shots, construct scenes, and direct actors in the necessary ways to elicit the desired effects required for effective horror. None of the cast dazzle in any way, whatsoever. I’ve seen worse, this year (MUCH worse), but every actor in the film lacks sincerity, coming off as forced and contrived, instead of natural. They even fail to achieve believable terror, which is one of the first things one learns in Acting School Kindergarten. Maybe I should cut them some slack, though, seeing as how they had nothing scary to react to. Every attempt to startle or unnerve the audience is trite and predictable, being lifted from previous (and far superior) horror films such as The Ring and The Blair Witch Project. Throw in clunky dialogue and a story held together by Silly Putty and Scotch Tape and we have a real mess on our hands. Far scarier than the film, itself, is the fact that someone at Sony read this script and said, “This is it! This is the one!”
An excellent horror film should be compelling, relatable, and innovative. Slender Man is none of those things. So, unsurprisingly, Slender Man is not an excellent horror film. It’s not a good horror film. It’s not even a passable horror film. I’ve seen others suggest that it should have played more off of the tragic real-life events that have occurred surrounding the mythical figure instead of translating the figure to the screen in the literal sense as an actual supernatural force, and I have to agree. I’ve said it many times, but films such as The Conjuring (here’s that #ThrowbackThursday and, while we’re at it, here’s my review of The Conjuring 2) have really elevated the horror movie genre and audience expectations. To create a breakout hit, filmmakers need to think outside the box and hit the audience in the heart while providing true terror. Here, White and company not only fail to think outside the box, but the box they stick to is plain and brown, with no exciting brand logos or even cutesy address labels affixed to it. The best that we can hope for is that this film will kill the legend of the Slender Man, altogether, and keep him off of our evening news broadcasts.
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