Studio: Super Movie Bros.
Director: AJ Meadows
Writer: Jeremy Kirk, AJ Meadows
Producer: Tim Gowan
Stars: Adam Hartley, Madeleine Rouse, Eric Warrington, Bill Finkbiner, Colleen Malone, Sarah Baker
The urban legend of “The Slender Man” connects a private investigator, a grieving father, and a brother and sister as they each investigate a series of mysterious child abductions.
The Slender Man is well on his way to cementing his status as a staple of early 21st century horror fiction. His intentionally fabricated urban legend is prime for pairing with another early 21st century horror hallmark, the “found footage” film.
The Slender Man’s real-world origin binds his myth to the Internet age. Inspired by a contest on the “Something Awful” website, user “Victor Surge” photoshopped the black-suited lanky specter into two photos with a few words about children vanishing and the meme snowballed from there. The Slender Man mythos is not unlike Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos in they way it is shared amongst multiple authors. Anyone who wants to can, and has, built on the Slender Man legend through videos, fiction, artwork, and video games.
AJ Meadows and Super Movie Bros. turned to another Internet sensation, Kickstarter, to crowdfund a feature film based on the mythology. After 204 backers ponied up $11,012 to make the movie a reality, “The Slender Man” was unleashed free of charge on the Internet in February of 2013. Some might consider it rude or ill-spirited to criticize a movie released for free, but “free” does not exempt an entertainment product from quality standards. It is inspiring to see the Slender Man fan community band together for the project, and that passion transfers into the worthwhile intentions of the filmmakers, but the final film has a bundle of issues that regrettably earn it a thumbs down.
At 75 minutes, “The Slender Man” is surprisingly too long. Anyone who has seen two or more “found footage” films knows that filler material is routinely a yawn inducer for the first hour or so. “Haunted asylum” and “lost in the woods” stories offer lengthy sequences of shadowy hallways or gnarled trees. Atmospheric creeps can come from the imagery or maybe a false jump scare and with luck, the climax will be good enough to forgive any ho-hum exposition.
“The Slender Man” appears to struggle more than most with finding ways to pad the runtime. When characters move from one location to the next, there is usually a minutes-long segment of wordless driving. In some cases, the problem is compounded when single characters are charged with the filming duties. With no one to talk to, the movie misses opportunities for backstory development or even idle banter, and it makes overlong travel scenes more tedious to bear.
The movie also falls for the “found footage” trap of exposing the implausibility of constant filming. Buying into a private investigator recording a witness interview is no problem at all. Except that the P.I. in “The Slender Man” turns the camera on as he steps out of his car, and starts recording on his walk up to the front door, which really makes no sense. One of these occurrences can be overlooked, but it happens again when the P.I. films himself coming home and saying hello to his dogs and again when one woman records her trip to the mailbox. No one can drive a car in “The Slender Man” without filming every boring detail, and the time spent in this movie needs to be occupied by something more relevant and more entertaining.
“The Slender Man” starts from a solid mystery concept. When the father of Emma and Chase Anders dies, the siblings are tasked with putting the man’s affairs in order. While going through her father’s computer files, Emma uncovers an alarming number of saved articles regarding child kidnappings that lead her to the name “Slenderman.” Emma soon learns that the reference is actually “Slender Man,” and whatever it is, it has something to do with a rash of mysterious kidnappings relating to her father.
The inherent problem with Slender Man as the basis for a horror movie is that the audience already knows the premise is fake. There is no such thing as Slender Man. There is no such thing as a vampire either, but people still have a tingle of doubt in their heads that maybe they could exist or perhaps they did at one time. Similarly, “Paranormal Entity” is fiction, but people do believe in ghosts, and that association taps into a fear response in the brain that can make those films frightening for some. “The Slender Man” cannot work on that subconscious level since there is no real-world belief in the associated fiction.
This leaves “The Slender Man” with two recourses for being a frightening film. It can achieve scares through its imagery, or through its depiction of real-life child abductions.
On the imagery front, “The Slender Man” offers very little. Slender Man sightings are few and far between and are accompanied by a characteristic video corruption that shadows his presence. The total exposure to the Slender Man image, which is his iconic look, is severely limited and unsatisfying. Even the climactic sequence skimps on the Slender Man visuals. The viewer is left not with a feeling of wanting more, but with a feeling of wanting anything at all.
Probably nothing is more frightening to a parent than the thought of child abduction. “The Slender Man” does deliver genuine chills when it depicts a real man, not the Slender Man, holding two young kidnapping victims in blindfolds. While not nearly as disturbing as a similar scene in “The Poughkeepsie Tapes,” there is a brazen daylight abduction of one child that resonates with the terror that these are crimes that do happen in reality on a sadly regular basis. And witnessing a kidnapping, even in a fiction film, is a chilling moment.
It is almost strange that “The Slender Man” is a horror film about a supernatural entity and yet the movie’s most frightening scenes involve these real-life horrors. If “The Slender Man” had been able to tap further into this vein instead of ambling onward with leisurely driving sequences, the scares could have been more successful. The filmmakers gave it an honest try, but “The Slender Man” has too much time-killing padding to make it enjoyable as “found footage.” And as a horror film, scary moments are barely there in a story that had potential, but failed to fully utilize or expound upon the Slender Man mythos in a truly memorable way.
Review Score: 30