Cinema Dispatch: Slender Man

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Slender Man and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures Releasing

Directed by Sylvain White

I mean we’re already getting a Five Nights at Freddy’s movie with Christopher Columbus of all people putting their weight behind it.  Why WOULDN’T there be even more horror movies based on memes?  I fully expect someone to announce an Until Dawn or a Layers of Fear television series by the end of this week if this movie manages to make its budget back, but dubious starting points aside there are PLENTY of horror movies out there that have ridiculous premises yet still manage to be either genuinely chilling or a lot of fun to sit through.  Can the Slender Man mythos manage to make for an entertaining feature film, or was this story best left on the internet to fade into further obscurity?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with a group of friends Wren, Hallie, Chloe, and Katie (Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, and Annalise Basso) who have a sleepover one night and decide to look up this whole “Slender Man” thing, whatever that is!  They manage to find their way to a video (presumably right next to the one from The Ring) where they follow the instructions in it and then… nothing happens.  Well nothing happens at first, but they start to have nightmares about the dapper monster and Katie even seems to be engaging with the mythos on their own until they eventually disappear during a school field trip.  Wren, Hallie, and Chloe, eventually find her laptop and see all the Slender Man related things she was looking into including some sort of ritual that should supposedly bring her back if they follow the steps correctly.  Of course they mess it up and under Demon/Human contract law, if you make a mistake, that’s your ass!  And so the three of them are slowly but surely either driven mad by the creature or just taken away as he seems to have the ability to do whatever he wants with no real way for them to stop him, and he even starts to look towards some new victims that only makes it that much more urgent that they find a way to either stop him or at least appease him enough to have him decide to stop on his own.  Can the girls survive this onslaught of psychological horror and monster attacks to discover the secrets of what this creature really is?  What is it that Slender Man is after, and is there a way to give him what he wants before he takes everything from him?  Did anyone check to see if he was just mad about the script?  If I was him, I’d be doing this just because of how awful the script is.

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“WHO THE HECK TOOK ALL OF MY SCREEN TIME!?”

This movie is absolutely terrible which is of little shock to anyone, but the thing is it would have been JUST as bad if they made this about The Rake, Jeff the Killer, or even a generic monster in the woods.  Sure, this movie only got MADE to capitalize on a fad (although one that peaked a few years ago) but this movie isn’t brought down because of anything inherently flawed with the source material.  Far from it!  This is just a generic ghost movie that works on a radically undisciplined form of dream logic, and it does absolutely nothing with the lore or the character!  Why would you make a Slender Man movie that barely had Slender Man in it and didn’t DO anything with what we know about the character!?  At best this movie has a DECENT eye for cinematography and some very well done B-roll footage to set the mood, but everything from the jump scares and tone to its plot and characters just screams that this was originally a script for something completely different that they slapped Slender Man on top of in order to sell it.  You’d think that a studio that went to the trouble of licensing the darn property would want to make a movie ABOUT said property, but I guess after getting an Angry Birds movie, an Emoji Movie, and whatever the heck Sony is planning with all those C-List Spider-Man villain movies, I shouldn’t be surprised at the utter shamelessness on display here.

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It’s one thing for your movie to have bad Photoshop.  It’s another entirely to INTENTIONALLY make bad Photoshop because of a meme and THEN expect people to find it creepy in your crappy horror movie.

I’m actually gonna take a step back and say that as far as being “truthful to the Slender Man lore” you really can’t say whether or not that’s the case here given how fluid the mythology is.  Heck, this isn’t even the first Slender Man movie as there was apparently a web series that got its OWN movie that had Slender Man in it, and they even got Doug Jones to play him in that!  Now that said, if you’re gonna create your own version of the character than you ACTUALLY need to put in the effort of doing that otherwise you end up with something like this which has a completely unwieldy and internally contradicting lore that doesn’t follow any semblance of its own flimsily established rules, nor does it ultimately mean anything in the story.  This is what I mostly mean when I said that this movie could have been about anyone because there’s nothing to ground this evil entity into something believable within the context of the movie so it could literally be replaced by anything and have the same effect.  Think about movies like Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street.  The villains in those are hardly BELIEVABLE as real world threats, but the movies have their own internal logic that is mostly stuck to (at least in the good films) and gives the audience an idea of what is possible in any given scene.  If you know that Freddy can only hurt someone in their dreams that gives you SOMETHING to feel tense about; will they wake up in time?  Vampires are stopped by holy objects, Frankenstein is scared of fire, even Michael Myers who is SUPREMELY overpowered is still to some extent human.  If you hit him with something hard enough, he’s gonna be down for a few seconds.  After watching this movie, what do we know about Slender Man?  Can he be hurt?  Is he alive?  Does he kill his victims?  Do his victims have to be within a certain physical range or can he only exert his influence over them within a certain period of time?  The answer to all of that is one big shrug because the movie never establishes who he is, what he can do, and why he does it.  Anything can happen at any time which does not make for a compelling antagonist and makes rooting for the characters seem utterly pointless.  Why should I care if you’ve already told me that they don’t stand a chance and that there’s nothing they can do to stop it?  Heck, why should I buy any single jump scare or horror moment when they turn out to be dream sequences at least seventy percent of the time?  At that point you’re just waiting for their number to be called like you’re waiting at a deli counter, and barring some very extreme extenuating circumstances, doing that is rarely a thrilling scenario.

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“Number thirty-five.  You’re Demonic Possession is ready!”     “I’m pretty sure I’m thirty-seven!!”

Okay, so the antagonist is not interesting and the overall arc of the story is marred by the lack of believability of this character within the fiction that they established.  What about the characters and the story?  Even if it’s not an effectively scary movie, do they manage to at least shine in that area?  Sadly the answer is no, as the movie has a really awkward flow to it and a tone that absolutely smothers whatever enjoyment could be had here.  In fact, the movie they seem to be ripping off the most is The Babadook in terms of tone and style, and probably not coincidentally also had a barely defined antagonist.  Now I’m not the biggest fan of The Babadook, but here’s why that movie made it work where this movie falls flat on its face.  The point of The Babdook is that it’s ultimately not about The Babadook.  This is an internal struggle that Amelia is basically externalizing into some sort of horror creature which means that the character themselves is the one driving the plot.  The hazy cinematography, the seemingly random appearances by this monster to only add to her stress, this is all in service of her inability to deal with the grief she’s feeling for the loss of her husband and the seemingly endless difficulty her son is giving her on a daily basis.  Is ANY of that present in this film?  Of course not!  At most one of the characters has a crappy home life and wants to escape it, but even then you wouldn’t do so by summoning a MONSTER FROM HELL, and she’s the first one out of the movie so the point becomes moot regardless.  The characters themselves are just fine, yet everything about this move from the way the monster appears to the way that shots are framed, to even the way that scenes are lit indicates that something much deeper is at play here but it isn’t.  There’s no depth to any of this, so on top of Slender Man being a boring and overpowered antagonist, the characters themselves add very little to keep us engaged in the story.

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“Holy Crap!  What kind of foul monstrosities has Slender Man put on this computer!?”     “Yeah, uh… I don’t think Slender Man put those vides on here.”     “Oh.  Wait why-”     “Look, don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to.  To each their own, alright?”

As I said earlier, the one thing this movie has going for it is its visuals and cinematography.  While none of it really works for the story they’re trying to tell, I did like some of the quiet moments here such as a scene where two characters are talking and the camera slowly pans away from them until we see their silhouettes.  Stuff like that doesn’t really HELP the movie because the lines being delivered are utterly pointless and don’t add much to the story, but it does make it clear that someone on the production was trying their hardest to at least make this a good looking garbage fire instead of just a blandly shot one.  However, it DOES go a bit overboard particularly with the lighting as no one in this town seems to have an overhead light; just dramatic mood lighting scattered throughout the room.  I outright laughed when one character was putting on makeup but her room was so dark that we could only see half of her face in the mirror.  Speaking of laughs, the biggest “jump scare” in the movie is actually the best moment because it’s such a cheesy and over the top effect that goes on for a solid ten seconds of hilarity.  I almost recommend seeing it just for that moment because I was completely bawled over with laughter when it happened.  Other than that, I think the Slender Man effects are decently realized whenever the movie gets around to doing them which is shockingly little considering it’s the title of the freaking movie, but when he does deign to show himself it’s… passable at least.  Honestly I kind of want to see what this crew could do with this character if they had been given a better script because the elements are THERE to make something great; but it’s undercut by an unfocused and poorly thought out story that even manages to drop subplots entirely (WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED TO TOM!?), and the visual elements, while decent, don’t do enough to make up for such a shoddy script.

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WHAT HIGH SCHOOL TAKES A FIELD TRIP TO A LOCAL GRAVEYARD!?  What, was THE MORGUE booked up!?

We get movies like this every so often that try to cover up a bad script with a decent look and some jump scares, but more often than not it doesn’t work.  Sometimes you get Silent Hill Revelations which was a hollow (if somewhat decent looking) spook house ride, and then you get utter dreck like Mother which eschews the very idea of a story in favor of tortured metaphors.  This wouldn’t have been THAT hard to make work, but for whatever reason they just didn’t have the story they needed and just had to roll the cameras anyway.  If this does get a sequel I hope that someone realizes that you need something coherent in order to elicit genuine fear and suspense, but until that day comes you should avoid this movie like the plague.  It’s at best MILDLY goofy enough at points to get a good laugh and ambitious enough to be kind of fascinating to watch it fail so miserably, but for the most part this is just a complete and utter waste your time and everyone else’s.  Now if they were to make a movie based on Ben’s Majora’s Mask cartridge, THEN we’d have something worth talking about!!

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One thought on “Cinema Dispatch: Slender Man

  1. tympest

    I find myself wanting to see this movie both because of how much I used to enjoy the Slenderman mythos and because I want to see how bad it is for myself. Awesome review!

    Like

    Reply

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