Urban myths have created some of the greatest and most terrifying characters. I remember as a kid going into a dark bathroom and chanting “bloody Mary” three times or telling stories of Candyman. My dad was always good to make up a scary story late at night, creating his own fictional horror as an attempt to scare my stepbrother and me. These characters are a part of childhood and the myths that get built around these characters can be both fun and scary. As horror has evolved, so have these urban myths. What at one time was a terrifying story of a woman killing me in a bathroom after chanting her name is no longer scary at all. To scare a new generation of young people, there needs to be a new terrifying character, something that is different and unlike the urban myths of old, insert The Slender Man.
Slender Man is a message board creation by Erik Knudsen. He created the character on a forum for the humor site, Something Awful. From there the myth surrounding the character grew and the character itself caught fire on the Internet. Shortly after its creation on the Something Awful forum, it spread to other forums and spawned a short video series. Slender Man became a popular urban legend for young people to share and add onto. I heard about him several years ago from one of my 7th grade students. She thought he was real and passionately argued it. She wasn’t the only one; there were several other students of mine that were interested in this character. That’s when I realized, first that I was old, but also that Slender Man was a popular character. This character is the exact thing that Hollywood is looking for. It’s preexisting IP in the sense that it isn’t a Hollywood creation but it’s original to Hollywood. Its popularity also makes it a no brainer for an adaptation. On paper the adaptation should work because young people love horror movies and they are familiar with this character, so they will definitely see a movie that brings Slender Man to life. The only problem is that the adaptation isn’t good.
Slender Man has all the potential to be a very good horror movie. The character of Slender Man is scary on it’s own. The challenge is to bring his terrifying story to life on screen and that challenge turned out to be far too great for screenwriter, David Birke (who based his story on characters by Victor Surge), and director, Sylvain White. They effectively took an inventive character and created a thoroughly uninventive story. The screenplay never comes together in any way that makes sense. Birke and Surge were not able to provide a story that supports the character. The story was a mish mash of traditional horror tropes (high school kids interested in something paranormal) and underdeveloped characters. In that sense the movie is simple and unoriginal. Problems with the story stretched far beyond unoriginal storytelling. The underdeveloped characters were not memorable or interesting, which in turn removes all stakes because you don’t really care about any of them. There also wasn’t much continuity in the storytelling. The timeline of events wasn’t very clear and things seemed to happen more out of convenience than genuine storytelling. Nothing that is happening matters because none of it is rooted in anything remotely real.
The Slender Man character himself also felt underdeveloped. If there was going to be any character in the whole story with a full backstory you would think it would be the one in which the movie is named after. What he could do or how he could do it was a mystery. Everything he did felt like something that was tailored for that moment but isn’t actually connected to anything thought out. There was plenty of exposition that tried to cover up this, but all of that exposition didn’t mean anything since it was just as random as his actions. A lot of mistakes can be overlooked in a movie like this, but if the namesake of the movie is uninteresting and not well thought out, it’s difficult to you overlook that.
As bad as the script was, that was far from the only problem with Slender Man. Technically the movie was just as bad, if not worse than the script. The first thing that I noticed and couldn’t get past is that it was way too dark. Granted most of the scenes took place at night, like most horror movies, but everything was too dark. It felt like they just turned the brightness down a few notches in post-production. It made the whole movie look so bad. There were also scenes with fog and mist for no reason at all. I assume White was trying to add a creepy vibe to the movie and instead he just makes the whole thing look cheesy. The cheese factor was elevated pretty much any time Slender Man was on screen. He is supposed to be this character that drives his victims crazy by making them see things and experience things that aren’t real. This allowed White to do some trippy things with the camera and some scenes that were supposed to mess with your mind along with the characters. None of these scenes worked because of the aforementioned technical mistakes and just poor execution of what looked to be poor ideas. They weren’t creepy or scary, just disorienting which added to a movie that was already disorienting in its storytelling.
Slender Man offers little in entertainment value. By the third act I was rolling my eyes and eagerly awaiting its end. Joey King looked to be the saving grace of the movie for a while. She is an interesting performer and has done some other good work, but here she was way over the top. That stripped her of anything that would be compelling and in the end frustrated me even more. I understand why this movie was made and I think it was a good idea to make it. The character is solid and there is still potential for a great “Slender Man” horror movie. This particular adaptation shows that you need much more than a good idea, because that is literally all that this movie has and because of that it’s awful.
1/2 star out of 5
Director: Sylvain White Writer: David Birke, based on characters by Victor Surge Starring: Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles & Jaz Sinclair Release Date: August 19th Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 1 hour and 33 minutes Image Credit: Imdb