Studio: Screen Gems
Director: Sylvain White
Writer: David Birke
Producer: Bradley J. Fischer, James Vanderbilt, William Sherak, Robyn Meisinger, Sarah Snow
Stars: Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Annalise Basso, Taylor Richardson, Jessica Blank, Michael Reilly Burke, Kevin Chapman, Javier Botet
Four teenage girls become haunted by a paranormal presence after performing a summoning ritual during a sleepover.
According to trade papers, Sony Pictures’ feet reportedly froze en route to the multiplex altar with “Slender Man,” prompting producers to court other brides. Staring at an unconfident release strategy equivalent to ambivalent abandonment, the movie hoped a new partner like Netflix might somehow see commercial viability and pony up marketing money. That didn’t happen. “Slender Man” boomeranged back to Sony, condemning the forgettable film to its preordained fate of death-by-dumping while no one listened to its screams.
It’s simple to see why potential suitors pushed it away with a 39-and-a-half foot pole. “Slender Man” plays like the kind of canned teen thriller birthed by someone saying, “let’s make a multimillion dollar feature out of an urban legend I’m vaguely aware of, but whose outdated popularity I don’t actually understand.” Surprising no one even peripherally aware of how mainstream Hollywood routinely misunderstands the horror market, the result burps out a predictably bland cut-and-paste project composed of clichés, claptrap, and carelessness.
Born online as a creepypasta meme in 2009, Slender Man’s fame probably peaked in 2012 with the release of the “Slender: The Eight Pages” videogame and final season of YouTube series “Marble Hornets.” Slender Man continued cooling considerably in the public consciousness following the real-life stabbing incident in 2014 documented in “Beware the Slenderman” (review here). Releasing a movie based on the modern mythological monster in 2018 smacks of someone whose finger is checking the wrong pop culture pulse.
Yet for the purposes of the movie’s plot, which is almost as thin as the titular terror, summoning Slender Man still isn’t as passé as Bloody Mary or Ouija when it comes to scary sleepover games. Four teenage girls, whose names are unimportant since they are largely interchangeable, elect to conjure the creep. In another instance of chasing a deadening social trend, their ritual involves watching a rapid viral video montage of mostly indiscernible images including triangles, eyeballs, and trees. Presto, now they’re all cursed or something.
“Slender Man” builds itself like a toddler builds Mr. Potato Head, except with even less sense for anatomy or creativity. Picture vague character traits as facial features, pat jump scares as limbs, and recyclable plot points as accessories. Every piece is a prefabricated plastic part from a factory assembly line. “Slender Man” just grabs a random handful (this girl runs track, that girl bolts upright after a nightmare) and plugs them into any slot whether they look right or not.
A dominant theory suggests the Powers That Be feared backlash over true event similarities about attempted murder schemes. Thus, they heavily interfered with the fiction. Coupled with a desire to be deeply entrenched in its PG-13 rating, “Slender Man” dumbs down all of its developments to the point where nearly nothing of note happens, and what does happen barely connects to a cohesive narrative.
Watch the film’s first trailer and you’ll have a better hint of the supernatural mystery the movie probably meant to be at one time. You’ll also discover the fates of people like Chloe, who stabs out her eye with a scalpel in chemistry class, and Tom, who looks like the boy taking a header off the school’s roof. Those aren’t spoilers since the film never actually addresses either outcome. They’re just two more loose ends in a movie whose holes outnumber Slender Man’s tentacles at a 20:1 ratio.
In its quest to be formulaic, “Slender Man” strips every secondary character of a distinguishable identity. The actors playing Hallie’s parents share a title card, but are merely credited as “Hallie’s Mom” and “Hallie’s Dad.” One of the irrelevant boys who initially proposes summoning Slender Man is simply called “Burley Kid.” Wren jokes about Chloe’s crush on a classmate named Kyle by calling Kyle the wrong name, with the real joke being that it doesn’t matter either way.
“Slender Man” cuts so much content that its pace remains unable to accelerate because there is no true destination. Slender Man gets reduced to an occasional CGI shape, supposedly played by Javier Botet despite there being no need for a human being, whose unknown origins and motivations remain unknown. The closet thing to a character arc involves Hallie going from deeply concerned that Slender Man may be kidnapping her friends to suddenly unconcerned at all. Audience reactions of “WTF?” become regular bridges between slow scenes sandwiched together with little context.
The movie replaces sensible story beats with a lot of the usual tiptoeing on creaking floors, flinching at shadows, and heavy breathing in darkness, which the film has plenty of due to a camera obsessed with burying shots in black. Filter in some bassy music, random cutaways of eerie forests, and voila, “Slender Man” dons the crown for most vanilla chiller of 2018.
Cinema students might be able to learn something by comparing David Birke’s first draft screenplay to the film’s final cut, because they can’t possibly mirror each other in any meaningful way. A professor could make a project out of pointing at awkward edits where something was added, subtracted, or altered, and asking his/her class to guess what should have been in its place. Basically, “Slender Man” illustrates what it looks like when a confused studio takes neutering through notes to such extremes, their movie ends up murdered.
Review Score: 30