I’m a huge fan of the Slender Man. It’s a sort of modern day mythology that was spawned in a technology that we all now rely on for our day to day lives. Without the internet, I don’t think it would have taken off (unless someone like H.P. Lovecraft came along and ran with it). As such, I appreciate what Slender Man is, both as an unconventional monster and as the cornerstone of its own mythos.
Which is also why I hate this movie so much. They took a wealth of great, usable canon and did dick-all with it. For anyone who doesn’t want spoilers, stop reading here, because I’m about to tear into this steaming pile.
There are numerous problems with this film and they span the gamut of what goes into making a film. The short story is it’s just bad.
The long story is what I’m going into here, so let’s break it down.
The story centers around four teenage girls-Katie, Hallie, Wren, and Chloe-who, after drinking a bunch of alcohol at one of their houses one night, decide to “summon Slender Man.” To do that, they watch a video that supposedly will make Slender Man aware of them and cause him to seek them out. This, of course, has disastrous consequences, with one of them disappearing on a field trip a week later. To bring her back, the three girls do a summoning ritual in the woods, handing over “something they love” onto a tree stump and waiting for three bells to ring while blindfolded. Chloe tears the blindfold off at the second bell, has an encounter with our faceless terror, and subsequently goes insane and ends up in a zombie-like state.
Wren’s the next friend to start losing it, and she has an encounter with him at the local library while trying to investigate how to get rid of him. She tries to tell Hallie, who is way more concerned with going on a date with her new boyfriend. She goes on that date, but when they start making out, she has a freak out hallucination moment where he appears crazed and distorted. Afterwards, she makes him promise not to watch the video. The next day (I think), her sister has a seizure and screams “He doesn’t have a face,” which prompts Hallie’s own hallucination and her realization that she has to give herself up in order to save her sister. She re-enters the woods, is captured by Slender Man, and is devoured into a nearby tree. The movie ends with her sister returning to normal.
This seems like pretty standard fare for a scary teenager movie. It would be fine if that’s all it was, but the insistence on including Slender Man as the primary antagonist turns this from a mediocre jumpscare movie into a really awful mythos-driven horror film. That aside, there are other problems story-wise I want to address.
First, there is zero sense of time in this film. The only hint we ever get to an accurate passage of time is a “One Week Later” blurb at the bottom left of the screen following them watching the video. Otherwise, days run into each other, and the audience has no clue when things are happening in relation to each other. Days fade into nights, that fade into other days, but sometimes into other nights (or maybe the same night?). There’s no clear progression here, and it confuses an already confusing build-up of tension that follows three separate characters.
Second, there is a giant forest literally everywhere you turn. The setting is nondescript by design; we’re given no hints as to where this is, other than a small, rundown town somewhere surrounded by woods. However, a town is still a town. There’s a central hub, with housing and development spreading out from there and becoming progressively more sparse the farther out you go. Not in this town! Here, houses are surrounded by forests, but also by other houses and alleys, which wouldn’t be possible or make any sense. Kids walk home at night on deserted roads that end abruptly at woods (apparently). With the exception of Hallie’s parents’ house, every other house and building we see is surrounded by forest. It comes off as silly and tacky, as though the director decided he had to make the setting nonsensical to serve the canon about Slender Man being associated with forests.
Third, there are plot arcs that go nowhere. Chloe is the first girl to go insane from seeing Slender Man’s face. We later see her at her house, looking like a zombie and staring out the window. This is the last time we see Chloe, and it’s the last time she’s mentioned. What happened to her? Not that you’ll care, but you’ll never know because the writers decided to just drop her off the face of the planet. Hallie’s boyfriend promises not to watch the video, but the next day (presumably) he comes to class late, looking visibly disturbed, and you catch a glimpse of bruises on his arm in a closeup. Where does that go? Nowhere, because the writers just couldn’t be bothered to do anything with that. Hallie’s parents? Throwaway supporting character who you don’t see the entire film except at the very beginning and at the end in Hallie’s sister’s hospital room. They contribute a staggering nothing percent to the story.
There is virtually no characterization to be had. We learn next to nothing about any of them or what their internal struggles are. Katie is a girl whose father is an alcoholic that passes out on the couch in the living room. What does that mean for her character? She wants to get out of this town. That’s really it. Why is her dad an alcoholic? Does that have some sort of impact on her character? Where’s her mother? You’ll never know, and, frankly, you won’t care.
Same goes for the rest of the girls, and the rest of the supporting cast. Wren is apparently some kind of edgelord wannabe, Hallie is…well, not much of anything really because she’s written about as interestingly as a cardboard cutout, and Chloe is a token not-white girl whose dad died when she was young. I describe them in this manner because that is literally all there is to them. Nothing happens to them to deepen our emotional connection with them or make them more relatable to the audience. They’re simply there, reacting to things around them.
I’m going to mention Chloe again, because the movie does something absolutely stupid with her. After the scene in the woods where Chloe prematurely takes off her blindfold, it’s indicated the following daytime sequence that she hasn’t been to school for a few days. When Hallie tries to find out more, she hears from one of the boys (who are likewise essentially human-shaped props) that her mom called in sick for her, and that she doesn’t want Hallie and Wren anywhere near her. How does he know this? No clue. Do we ever see Chloe’s mother? Nope. As far as the movie is concerned, Chloe lives alone in her house and impersonates a non-existent mother to get herself out of class. It’s absurd.
Slender Man is, like I said, a monster created on the internet that evolved into his own mythos. Though there’s some variety, there are a few basic principles that he abides be. He’s unnaturally tall and slender (duh), has tentacles that come out of his back, doesn’t have a face, and abducts/kills people generally in wooded areas. The film takes all of those parts about him and keeps them.
The problem is that this is as far as it goes with the lore. Instead of treating him like some eldritch monstrosity from time immemorial, they essentially reuse the storyline from The Ring. The girls watch a video, and then they start dying/going crazy/disappearing. Rather than taking all of the original canon that exists and doing literally anything with it, they turn Slender Man into a discount Ring girl. As someone who really enjoyed this spontaneous internet tulpa, I was so disappointed that I was tempted to tear one of the theater chairs out from the floor and throw it at the screen.
What irks me more than that, though, is the fact the film doesn’t follow the rules it sets out even with its insistence on the Ring internet video. The one indication we get of time passing is immediately after the girls watch the video, where the movie tells us that one week has passed. That’s when the first girl disappears. We can draw from that, and from the fact the film highlights this time lapse, that there’s a week between watching the video and crazy things happening. However, in the forest when they’re trying to get the girl back, only one girl – Chloe – sees Slender Man’s face. She subsequently goes crazy, but so do Wren and Hallie. In fact, Wren encounters the Slender Man in the library without having ever seen him and taking every precaution not to encounter him.
Later, Hallie’s boyfriend, Tom, has apparently seen the video because the audience sees him come to class late, looking freaked out and sleep-deprived. However, based on apparent time frame, only one day has passed. At the end of the movie, Hallie voluntarily gives herself up to Slender Man so that she can save her sister, but then she runs away. There’s no sense in any of how it works.
They also turned him into, near as I can tell, a tree. The reason I titled my post “The Haunted Tree” is because, by the end of the film, Slender Man absorbs the main girl, Hallie, into a tree. That, by itself, isn’t dispositive, but every time he appears or it’s indicated he’s present, you hear the sound of creaking, breaking branches. Moreover, if you look closely at the (awful) CGI they overlay on the character, it seems to bark-like, as though the surface of Slender Man is entirely wood.
It’s lame. And stupid. And does not coincide with anything that exists detailing the canon around Slender Man. Since Slender Man is supposed to be some unknown horror, the only thing the audience can draw away from this presentation is that he’s a haunted tree.
Normally this would be rolled into something else because lighting is never that big of a deal, even when it’s a particularly noteworthy usage of lighting for narrative effect. However, I’m making a point of this in particular because of how terribly lit this is. Scary movies are usually lit in a way to convey oppressive darkness. However, they are still lit in some way.
There are parts of this film where you literally cannot see what is happening. This doesn’t play into some greater narrative framing. It’s just abysmally dark, for no reason. Every scene is pervaded by unnecessary darkness. Parts that could be reasonably lit in a way to heighten tension are just…well, not lit. The director apparently decided that lighting designed to heighten tension and build atmosphere wasn’t good enough, so he just decided not to use lights at all. In a horribly cliched way, scenes at night have one or two light sources, but unlike the cliches I’m referencing, there is no backlighting. I guess seeing the character’s faces and reactions would humanize them too much, which was not the apparent goal of this film.
Best to just leave them in darkness as empty placeholders, I guess.
This movie is awful. Setting aside all the awful that relates directly to their portrayal and characterization of Slender Man, the movie is just awful on its own. The story is disjointed. It doesn’t follow the rules it lays out. The lighting is horrendous, there’s no character development, and the movie is chock-full of cheap jump scares at the expense of real terror. It’s garbage.
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