Since its creation in 2009, the internet-based urban legend of Slender Man became a modern boogeyman of the internet age as images were copied and pasted around all corners of the web. The rail-thin, tall man in a black suit and devoid of facial features targets children in a sort of horror twist to the classic legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The creepypasta has also drummed up notoriety with the Slender Man stabbing in 2014. With viral nature of the Slender Man offering a wealth of story potential, the first horror film based on the Slender Man instead opts to apply its internet-based origins over the blueprint of the VHS era’s boogeyman, The Ring.
Set in a small town in Massachusetts, four teen girls learn that their male friends intend to summon Slender Man at a sleepover and decide they should do the same. They gather around a laptop and hit play, unleashing a video montage of horrific imagery ripped right out of The Ring, and thus succeed in summoning the very thing they didn’t believe was real. Shortly after, Katie (Ouija: Origin of Evil’s Annalise Basso) goes missing, strange things start happening, and the remaining girls follow the exact same footsteps we’ve seen before as they’re plagued with the curse-like haunting of the boogeyman.
Much has been debated about ratings in horror films; namely PG-13 versus R-ratings and what it means for the horror. The truth is that none of that matters if the story is good and the scares are well executed. Here, there’s no amount of gore or any R-rated content that could have made Slender Man less tedious to sit through. Despite a run time of only 91 minutes, it feels more like a slow crawl through a 3-hour movie instead.
That’s because there’s nothing new in Slender Man. Writer David Birke homed in on the viral nature of the internet and applied it to this modern boogeyman, but in doing so he created an overly familiar retread of boogeyman type stories that we’ve seen many times before. Sylvain White has crafted a competently made feature, but it’s also uninspired. Slender Man essentially feels like a movie created from a how-to guide to horror. Step one: apply drab color palette with hazy blues, greens, and neutrals. Step 2: make sure all set pieces look like generic, creepy locations. Step 3: insert tried-and-true jump scares. Step 4: do not deviate from horror formula. When some of the girls start hallucinating, you’ll yawn when normal faces become skewed with the familiar CG black eyes and gaping mouth that plagues so many horror films. And sometimes even laugh.
Generic horror blueprint aside, the narrative also actively works against making Slender Man scary. Katie is painted as a girl with a troubled home life that desperately wants to run away, making Slender Man more her savior than scary. Her friends Wren (Joey King) and Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) also have indications of troubled homes, leaving lead heroine Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles) as the sole teen with a level head. Sort of. The actresses do their best to imbue these teens with endearing friendships and plausibility, but the script is riddled with plot holes. Horror favorite Javier Botet is credited as portraying the Slender Man, but he’s so heavily CG’ed over it’s impossible to notice his contribution to the character.
Slender Man took a blank slate of possibilities and turned it into a tired retread. It’s a strange choice made even more curious considering the popularity of the creepypasta seems to have waned in the last few years. There’s a chance that Slender Man will work for a group of teen girls during a sleepover, but for everyone else, it’ll be a maddening experience in tedium. There’s some imagery from earlier trailers missing in the final cut, making me wonder what White might have originally envisioned, but even then I don’t know that anything could’ve saved this.