Studio: Parking Garage Pictures
Director: Joel Petrie
Writer: Joel Petrie, Raymund Delmar
Producer: Blake Casselman, Lee Gardner, Aaron Justesen
Stars: Dan Schovaers, Mili Parks, Jyllian Petrie, Ryan Templeman, Eric Fisher, Jim Stevens, Joel Petrie
Amateur documentarians researching a strange child abduction case uncover a disturbing connection to an urban legend.
The left jab is my death wish willingness to watch virtually anything “found footage.” The right hook is my catlike curiosity for exploring Slender Man fiction. Each has led to problematic entertainment choices on past occasions. But “Slender” combines both desires into a knockout punch laying better judgment flat on the mat with a lo-fi first-person film experience charitably described as uneventfully disappointing.
Joel and Dan are desperate to find a subject for their long-planned amateur documentary. Their search ends when Dan meets Mili, a woman muttering to herself on the train about a faceless tall man with tentacle arms abducting her children. Mili might be crazy, but Joel doesn’t care. If an investigation into the children’s disappearance confirms suspicions surrounding Mili’s mental state, Joel has a backup plan in mind.
With aid from Dan’s girlfriend Jyllian, and a clever costume for slim friend Ryan, Joel thinks he can make a movie by exploiting an urban legend and scaring the bejeezus out of Mili. After the newsmagazine focus on her heartbreaking story is deemed too boring, the filmmakers decide to capture genuine fear on camera with a “Scare Tactics”-style prank on the poor woman. What no one expects is that their elaborate Slender Man setup might be cursed by a cameo from the notorious boogeyman himself.
“Slender” is in a hole immediately thanks to a premise bearing little logic. First act fluff includes chatter about acquiring investors and longstanding plans for a serious project. So when Joel abandons the PBS format to stage a mean-spirited hoax instead, an obvious question is, “then what?” How is a feature-length film supposed to come out of a singular “gotcha” moment? There is no viable way to do a proper documentary on the abduction case only to end on a “Punk’d” punchline without the filmmakers outing themselves as assh*les for demeaning a grieving mother.
A strange decision to jump back and forth along a timeline instead of ordering everything chronologically additionally confuses the story. Not that the film’s timeline makes sense anyway. I’m not even talking about continuity goofs like a security camera timecoded to February 21st when the date is supposed to be November 11th.
Date stamps tell us that two weeks are spent researching Slender Man across four people, one of whom seemingly just played “The Eight Pages” for 30 minutes. Three months later in April, Jyllian finally fits Ryan for his Slender Man costume. It isn’t until the end of October however, that they actually do something with that prop for the first time. Either “Slender” was filmed on scattered weekends when the real crew was available, or the only thing the fictional crew accomplished between January 4th and October 27th was sewing a costume that is mostly a white mask and black suit.
Most disappointing of all is that aside from the crewmember dressed for the prank, the title attraction doesn’t even appear in the film. Scant kills occur offscreen or out of frame while Slender Man himself is nowhere to be seen at all.
Poor style choices, or absent consideration for such details, also hurt “Slender” technically. Much of the movie is recorded on a smartphone held vertically, leaving two-thirds of the horizontal film frame to be filled by blurred backgrounds. Audio is littered with annoying crackling noises that, if intentional, are unnecessary. If unintentional, then sloppy.
Be sure to bring both Dramamine and Visine to counteract the effects of a perpetually jittery camera with a lens regularly fighting for focus. “Slender” continues running through the checklist of common “found footage” complaints that were already passé when “Paranormal Activity” (review here) was still a hot property. Who edited the footage? Who added the music? Who thought an audience would want to see this movie?
A surprising bright spot for “Slender” is that it has incredibly credible acting from a cast with only a handful of credits between them. Potentially unflattering though the compliment may be, speaking as someone who regularly rides the Los Angeles Metro, Mili Parks perfectly passes as a distraught woman ranting crazily on a commuter train. Dave Nilson as Detective Russ Barlow could slip right into a “Dateline NBC” talking head segment without anyone knowing he wasn’t a real detective. I’d suspect he might have been police at one time except footage of him in the field is less convincing than sit-down scenes where his cadence is right on the money.
Even unimportant scenes such as a drunken barfly desperate for a hookup are entertaining because of how naturally such moments play, if only as a temporary distraction from a flat main storyline. If any good comes from this movie, at least a few of these unfamiliar faces have some solid performance clips for their demo reels, although much of it consists of people in chairs during staged interview segments.
Acting throughout is head and shoulders above its peers in the DIY horror subgenre. Yet what good does that accomplish when in service of a movie fighting hard to make likable personalities unlikable with its core plot point?
I would sign on to see this cast in a scary, well-constructed “found footage” film. “Slender” is not that film. With the urban folklore and entertainment options involving Slender Man increasing regularly, “Slender” is destined for burial at the bottom without blinking once on the radar.
Review Score: 35