Slender Man might be difficult to explain to anyone who wasn’t internet savvy in the early 2010’s, but to everyone else who either read the original forum posts, watched the popular and mysterious “Marble Hornets” web series, or played a spinoff video-game, the name should be familiar. Slender Man, the urban legend, was created by Eric Knudsen on a forum in 2009, but being able to trace a legend back to its creator kind of takes away from its mystique. Slender Man, therefore, relies mainly on its deep ties to the internet and web culture.
Occasionally the butt of many jokes, Slender Man easily became shorthand for any sort of “creepypasta” monster or demonic entity. Though his popularity peaked in 2014, Screen Gems and Mythic Entertainment inexplicably obtained the rights to turn Slender Man into the movie Slender Man in 2016. Seeing Slender Man hit theaters in 2018 feels like the punchline for some joke about the modern movie industry being completely out of touch with young people. Perhaps next we’ll see a “Doge” Netflix series, or a “Five Nights at Freddy’s” movie… Oh, wait.
Slender Man opens with an ominous shot of a forest outside a small town, since nothing good ever happens in a dark forest. There’s nothing about the forest that makes it a good home for Slender Man, but it’s an established horror trope. Slender Man does a remarkable job (I don’t mean this as a compliment) of ruining effective moments from other movies. Summoning Slender Man involves watching a creepy Ring-esque video; one character discovers found footage taken in the forest a la The Blair Witch Project; and in a shockingly obvious ripoff of a scene from the newest It movie, one character does some research in a library before getting trapped in the stacks, and get chased around by the monster. There’s nothing original about Slender Man. Even the movie’s writers seem to be aware of their debt to other horror stories, demonstrated in one scene where a character pores over multiple urban legends and mythical creatures who share Slender Man’s basic characteristics.
The threadbare story follows four generic and forgettable girls, and I can’t remember their names, so let’s just call them Becky. There’s Goth Becky (played by top-billed Joey King), Ginger Becky, Black Becky, and Protagonist Becky. The Beckies decide one night to summon Slender Man, the internet meme all the kids these days are super into. Unfortunately, the easily found web video (if a simple Google search brings it up, how come there aren’t more Slender Man abductions?) ends up actually summoning him, giving the Beckies weird headaches and nightmares for weeks. Suddenly the Beckies start disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Yet, none of the Beckies left much of an impact on me, instead brandishing lame and cliché character traits. The movie makes a big deal about Ginger Becky’s alcoholic dad, but he never does anything meaningful in the movie. Likewise, Protagonist Becky has a very bland crush on Handsome Football Guy, which drives a wedge between her and the other Beckies for no reason.
In fact, Slender Man focuses far too much on Slender Man himself. That may sound oxymoronic, but Slender Man is an open-source urban legend; despite belonging to Knudsen, there’s no official canon. Anyone who creates Slender Man-related works of fiction has free reign to come up with backstories, powers, and related mythos. Instead of picking specific characteristics about the character and embracing them, Slender Man samples all different iterations of the story. Slender Man, in the movie, has mind control powers, which he uses to kidnap children. But he also has hallucination powers. Oh, and teleportation. And tentacles that also become spider legs. And he can walk through walls. And he can hack into your phones and computers. All these unclear attributes lead to an abundance of scenes where characters just talk about Slender Man and how dangerous Slender Man might be, when in actuality, he’s not a very interesting threat.
Nobody in Slender Man seems to understand how to follow directions. Another horror movie trope, dumb characters typically die first, due to some sort of short-sightedness or lack of preparation. However, the characters in Slender Man go beyond simple stupidity by (1.) knowing exactly what will bring them harm (i.e. “When we do this summoning ritual, it’s very important that you keep your blindfold on, otherwise you’ll get possessed by Slender Man.”), and (2.) doing that exact thing that brings them harm (i.e. “This blindfold is stupid! I’m taking it off.”). It’s exactly the sort of plot convenience that bad horror movies thrive on, and unfortunately Slender Man lays its foundation on characters making idiotic decisions.
It’s a shame that Slender Man couldn’t defy everyone’s expectations by using the urban legend as a blank slate to create a genuinely interesting and contemporary horror story. Although all the elements are there, particularly an obsession with web culture, the movie falls flat in almost every way. With unlikable and stupid characters, an unoriginal plot, and dull scares, the movie’s only saving grace might be a compelling score by Ramin Djawadi (of Game of Thrones and Westworld fame), which incorporates bass-heavy drones with tolling bells. Aside from that, if you’re looking for a scary and intense viewing experience, you’re probably better off watching someone else play the video game than going to see this movie.