Despite the infamy that surrounds the character of Slender Man, I was very excited to see the trailer for its big screen adaptation. It looked like a scary enough movie, but I was more excited to see a figure that I had grown up with finally be turned into a movie. I was nostalgic for the tension I felt in high school whenever people would spread the Slender Man lore and dare each other to play one of the genuinely fear-inducing games. I never set my expectations high with Slender Man (2018), and by doing so I was able to enjoy most of the film the same way I would the b- movie schlock of decades past, but this by no means implies that the film is actually good. Because it’s not. It sucks and its not scary.
Even the premise is eye rollingly familiar; a group of four friends living in an average Midwestern town (figure it out yet?) hear a story about a mythical figure called Slender Man who kidnaps and drives children mad if they watch mysteries video online (how about now?). The group watches the video, and some time later one of them disappears during a field trip, prompting the remaining three to find their friend and figure out how to stop Slender Man from taking them as well, while resisting the influence of its hallucinations. Now if you could glean that this premise is basically Stranger Things and The Ring, then you’re correct. Bonus points if you got a little A Nightmare On Elm Street from that too. The premise is painfully similar to the point where even the video that they watch is just like the tape from The Ring.
Many B-grade movies are shameless rip offs of better and more well known source materials, but none of them deal with a well-established character the same way Slender Man does here. Anyone remotely familiar with the video games knows that it’s not hard to make Slender Man scary, and while these same games don’t have any kind of plot that can be adapted, their simplistic form is proof of the cardinal rule of horror: less is more. All you do in these games is wander around some creepy environment at night and try to collect pieces of paper and hope you don’t see Slender Man, because as soon as you do you’re screwed. This film constantly throws Slender Man at you to the point where it’s nearly impossible to find the monster scary. There are a couple of instances where its shadow subtly lingers in the background of scenes while the heroines look upon something else with doubt and unease, but that’s really it. Otherwise, Slender Man appears to each girl individually and assaults them with all manner of over the top supernatural scares, which usually manifests as nothing more than shaking the frame and distorting parts of the image. One such instance when this happens, when Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles) is hooking up with a boy she has a crush on, is so predictable and lame it elicited uproarious laughter from my theater audience.
Now normally I wouldn’t mind these hilarious attempts at half-assed scares because, simply put, they’re hilarious and half-assed. Where the issue lies is in the fact that the filmmakers constantly repeat scenes like this for the bulk of the run-time. They don’t add anything to the film and their repetition is boring, making a relatively short movie feel like it’s going to go on forever. On top of all of this, there is a marked confusion about how Slender Man actually works. Horror movies and their villains need rules, or else what are you supposed to be scared of? When Slender Man can do anything from distorting the music on a vinyl to playing a live video feed on a phone, along with manifesting hallucinations and physically grabbing its victims, how are you supposed to orient yourself to the rules of the film? This movie has the built-in defense of Slender Man creating insanity, which by nature is lawless, but what an absolutely boring defense this is. Plus, psychological horror at least attempts to make you guess whether what’s happening is real or not. The Haunting, Slender Man is not.
I think what keeps audiences adrift in this film more than anything is how it’s edited. The trailers promised a dark and somewhat gory movie, but almost everything that was in the trailer is cut out — presumably so the film could get a PG-13 rating and attract a younger, teenage crowd. It’s a real shame that this happened. I can’t help but wonder what could have been with this movie, but as is the film is just a complete, utter, chopped-up mess. Within about four or five cuts, made within 30 seconds or so, we go from: girls on bus to field trip; Katie (Annalise Basso) wandering into the woods; people waiting around a graveyard; cops pulled over on the side of the road near bus; and then BAM we’re told Katie is missing. There is so little continuity, you’ll struggle to keep track of where important characters are and what they’re doing during and between scenes. It seems like they try to focus on one girl in the group at a time, but it literally feels like the other girls are forgotten about and are dropped completely from the film. It’s really a shame because the movie opens by establishing their distinct personalities as well as their friendship, making it feel like I was watching a slasher film from the 80s. Ultimately, this movie can be given some credit for its evocation of b-movies of the past, but this is fleeting. I can see Slender Man finding some love on DVD or streaming, but if you want a scary Slender Man adaptation you’re better off watching Marble Hornets on YouTube.
Slender Man may have been able to replicate some b-movie enjoyability, but this is all but lost in terrible editing and scene after scene of embarrassingly-executed attempts at scares, as well as unoriginal writing.