If you generally didn’t like horror films but wanted to make one that cashed in on a sweet, sweet Internet trend from nearly a decade ago, this is the one you’d make after reading a Wikipedia article about it and maybe a quick Googling of recent successful scary movies.
It truly is the epitome of lazy genre work. Once again, the director’s mental checklist practically leaks out of every scene:
|Unlikable group of idiot teenagers (not because all teenagers are idiots, but these ones sure are!)||✓|
|People with distorted faces||✓|
|Fake-out jump scares (nothing’s behind you), followed by real jump-scares (it’s in FRONT of you!)||✓|
|Misunderstanding-based jump scares (e.g., it’s just a normal person lurking in the dark and now wondering why you’re screaming in the library, you weirdo)||✓|
|“I looked up a tutorial on Lynda.com”-level computer animation at every goddamned opportunity||✓✓✓|
There’s hardly a story to speak of. Some teenagers hear about Slender Man and decide to summon him, which apparently is accomplished by watchings a stupid YouTube video. Of course they don’t think it’s real, just a stupid game, and of course it actually is real, and predictably monstery things happen.
Slender Man genuinely isn’t worth summarizing beyond this, because it’s so unbearably generic. I left the theater to use the bathroom at one point and missed precisely nothing of importance. A few years ago I wrote up a list of what I think are the most common, essential steps in contemporary horror plots. Going by that formula, Slender Man progresses thusly: 1B, 2B, 3A, 4B, 5B. (In this case, it could perhaps be argued that “something happens” first, and then the characters find out that there’s an established pattern. It could also be argued that shut. Up.)
As is often the case, there’s nothing outstandingly wrong with this film. Visually it resembles a Hollywood release, if not a Blumhouse blockbuster. It’s just immensely boring. It borrows from countless better movies, but does so poorly, without any real awareness of what made the tropes it so gleefully steals scary the first time around–if they ever were scary at all. Droopy black-eyed demon faces superimposed on random people no longer have the same punch they did back in the days of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. They didn’t have a huge amount of punch even then. (And I love Emily Rose.)
The obvious question, of course, is why? Why make this movie now, so long after Slender Man was relevant in a way that would seem to justify a major motion picture release? Even if the filmmakers were cynically trying to capitalize on the emotional furor surrounding the Waukesha, Wisconsin stabbing, that much-publicized event happened over four years ago. The question hangs over Slender Man, lending the proceedings not a sense of dread but of Hollywood desperation. Tedious is the best word to describe this film, and it’s one of the most damning words in a horror critic’s vocabulary.
You may know that in my day job I’m a folklorist, and I’ve researched Slender Man at some length. My disdain for the film isn’t based on any sense of professional ownership. It’s just not a good film.