With open arms, the faceless figure kneels to greet you. Then, you enter a new world — a world you have never seen, a world you wish to never see again and a world that took 91 minutes of your time.
The summer thriller “Slender Man,” directed by Sylvain White and based on Eric Knudsen’s 2009 Slender Man photo creation, falls short in nearly every way, with an unpolished and predictable story, lazy horror elements and dull action sequences.
To the film’s credit, some performances were interesting, including those by lead actresses Joey King and Julia Goldani Telles, and its titular character was represented well — he was a man, and he was slender.
But the story failed to develop fully, which prevented the film’s potential from being realized.
“Slender Man” follows four high school friends after they watch a video about conjuring Slender Man, who supposedly promises a better world to those who follow him.
The characters quickly brushed off the video’s flashing images, but a few weeks later, it becomes clear that one of the teens, Katie, has grown distraught. Another, Chloe, admits she vomited twice one morning after they watched the video, and the others begin to wake up from frequent nightmares.
The group continues to ignore their reactions until Katie disappears during a school field trip to a local historic cemetery. Missing person flyers are posted in and around Katie’s high school and town, and when authorities exhaust possible leads, the three remaining friends become investigators.
They determine Slender Man has taken Katie, and they attempt to bring her home by sacrificing something they each love. Their beloved trinkets are dropped at the base of a tree near the cemetery as three bells toll.
Bell one, eyes closed. Bell two, listen for his voice. Bell three, open and see him.
The three friends wait near their sacrifices and blindfold themselves because they fear Slender Man would capture them if they look into his face. Two of the three remaining friends keep their eyes hidden beneath their blindfolds, but the third does not and becomes zombie-like, all lucidity draining from her in the days after her encounter.
Two friends remain, but soon, they too fall into Slender Man’s deceptive ownership when they see his face directly and relinquish their minds to him.
Basically, children vanish in a town’s darkest places — the cemetery, the forest and unlit streets in the middle of the night — some driven to madness and some to death. Nothing new for horror and thriller fans. In fact, Slender Man is reminiscent of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s” Child Catcher, who entices children with candy to kidnap them.
I expect to be scared when watching a horror movie, and Slender Man is creepy, but he is no Child Catcher from my youth. I was especially disappointed with the quality of the story and the special effects applied to the Slender Man character. Knudsen’s original Slender Man images are quite sinister, but the film’s portrayal is almost comical.
Knudsen’s Slender Man was launched in 2009 as a Photoshop contest entry on the Something Awful online forum. Knudsen accompanied his images with captions, and the entry quickly spiralled internet users into a frenzy. Adaptations have since evolved, expanded and been related to traditional folklore.
Knudsen’s Slender Man concept is interesting but has become dangerous. And unfortunately, the most disturbing thing about the Slender Man phenomenon is not the major motion picture or any internet adaptation.
The 2014 violence in Wisconsin — in the name of Slender Man — left 12-year-old Payton Leutner in serious condition after two other 12-year-olds stabbed her 19 times. Not knowing much about Slender Man, I remember hearing about the incident and thinking it unbelievable that 12-year-olds could and would stab someone, let alone stab a friend to appease an internet character. Their violence seems isolated but makes the Slender Man creation, and others like it, extremely troubling. Hopefully the incident will remain isolated and 2016’s “Beware the Slenderman” will be the only documentary obliged to cover such disturbed young perpetrators.
White’s “Slender Man” makes no obvious mention of Slender Man-inspired violence but instead attempts to create conventional images of ominous shadows, captured children, foggy cemeteries and a floating slender figure.
If filmmakers intended to ignore the significant and sensitive context surrounding Slender Man, they could have at least created something entertaining. If you were excited for “Slender Man,” you will be disappointed. If you saw this coming, congratulations.