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Lina Larissa Strahl,
Lea Zoë Voss,
When their friend mysteriously disappears, a group of teenage girls explore whether the culprit could be the creepy internet urban legend character Slenderman by summoning him with a ritual. They begin experiencing supernatural phenomena that make them believe the story is real and that they are now being haunted by the Slenderman. Directed by Sylvain White. Based on the character created by Eric "Victor Surge" Knudsen.
Much like the Blair Witch, Slender Man has always been scarier as an idea within the lore built around it than as a literal and physical presence of it. We laud what the Creepypasta community has done to up the ante with the character originally created by Victor Surge (properly credited at the end of the film as an early billing), and there have been positively freaky spins on the subject matter such as the YouTube project Marble Hornets, yet there have also been negative effects attributed to the character in the attempted murder in Wisconsin by prepubescent female friends. The tormenting figment of our minds is spooky enough to carry throughout 90 minutes of film with flashes here and there. Apparently Sylvain White (director) and David Birke (screenwriter) didn't get the memo.
I won't pretend like I could have written or made a better film, but I don't know if the right plot was chosen here. This is a story where SM is already embedded in the national consciousness and skeptical friends decide to attempt to summon him, only to bear the burden of his haunting, kidnapping and/or killing. I personally would have liked to see this have gone in one of three different directions: (1) have a tone more like The Ring where the demonic evil is not known as a figure but simply as a watched video with a curse (they even mention "virus" that would be a lot like the Ringu series and get into the anatomy of it), with no alias or concrete image in association to it; (2) let it play out more like a psychological horror, even if it means recapturing elements inspired by the stabbing incident four years ago; (3) found footage fashion, but Marble Hornets already did that, so I'll annex that recommendation immediately. There would be larger opportunities to provide a certain cloud of mystery and intrigue to explore something further, rather than simply to have too tangible of a grasp on the subject matter. Idea #2 might glorify and inspire that notion a little more than we need though, and since idea #1 would tie more closely to the film's actual events I'd say that #1 would be my personal go-to. In fact, when the girls watch the video it actually reminded me of The Ring to begin with, and that was a good thing; too bad they did not continue much down that path.
Characters also never really had any kind of realistic dialogue. The opening conversation between two schoolmates just has you thinking: "This feels like they're reading a script." That's never a good thing. Like many horror movies, characters have trouble elaborating what they see and feel with each other, and it comes at an unnerving level here. Only one character ever tries to really cope with what's going on in a verbal manner, but she simply doesn't push enough to bring the others to her side and it feels like a lost cause. I'll admit that she tries, but she doesn't articulate herself well enough and from the outside looking in just comes off as sounding irrational. Well-written horror movies have characters who can actually think and speak rationally, yet still have trouble being able to overcome their villainous adversities.
The way it was shot was another concern of mine. This film is dark, and by that I mean it is dimly lit to a fault. I know they probably opted for more natural lighting at times, but even then there are no carefully-constructed shots to contrast silhouetted characters with some sort of lighter background from a light or a dusk evening sky. Even many interiors seem like people forget to pay their electricity bills as they only light up the bare minimum amount. Forget tone, this was just a slighted level of realism that probably could have resolved a lot of the characters' dumb moments if they just turned on a couple of more lights at times. They're also always going out on their lonesome after sunset, which tends to be a recipe for disaster. White chose to let sound play a major role in the film, but often did not establish a shot for us to sense our place in the scene. Everything looked too same-ish to lack the feeling of impact moments take place as they should. I think the choice of shots got better as the film went on, but at that point it was too little too late.
There were three scenes in the middle of the film that are almost back-to-back-to-back that probably provide the best overall tension. All three scenes have great buildup, but unfortunately only one executes strongly and the other two flatten out rather quickly. This mostly has to do with the fact that they try too hard to show more, and the effect is lessened as a result. That, or like many horror films it is just poorly edited (sorry to stray off-topic, but speaking of poorly edited... in the beginning of the film there is a "One week later" moment that shows up in the bottom right corner of the screen and it fades away the moment it comes on that you might actually miss it). The scene that pulls off its moments well works because of SM really only appearing soft in the background if that, and a lot of mentally-jarring moments for the character that make the sequence feel nightmarish. If more scary moments in the film were like this or if there were less attempts at scaring the audience in general, it would have heightened these moments much more and become extremely effective. Alas, it was not meant to be and we are resorted to cheap thrills. What makes matters worse is that I think some moments would have been great without inserting eerie music alongside them, and I don't want to call them jump-scares because to be honest there aren't too many here (most times they are intentionally telegraphed as they creep into the frame, but the ones that are there could have served better without the score).
Before those three scenes that I mentioned (and outside of watching the main video), the story really had trouble grabbing me; past those three scenes (outside of a great 'mentally disturbing images' sequence and one of the visual shots near the end of the film), the story really begins to whimper out. It tries to work in two other characters to an extent and does not deliver on carrying out their arcs throughout (add in one of the main characters as well), parent involvement is set to a bare minimum and they are useless when present (in fact, there's a weird bit where someone thinks they are at the wrong address because they didn't see any cars in the driveway... ever hear of a garage??), there is little to no conveyed emotion for the loss of people near and dear to the main characters to feel their motivation as a great driving force, nobody ever listens to anybody in the film except when it's a detriment to their cause, and for some strange reason the girls all know the passwords to each others' laptops (just a small nitpick on my end). Worst of all, Slender Man was only slightly imposing and just not very scary, and he appears far too often. When I watch the Marble Hornets series on YouTube and he rarely appears in a quick couple of frames, I get the most unsettling chill in my body. When I play Slender and am traveling the forest as the stomps begin happening, the tension ramps up and gets me in the right mood to freak me out when something actually happens, no matter how scary. As a constant, Joey King was the only onscreen redeeming quality of this abhorrent mess.
They should have gone with "less is more," and they instead went for the reverse tactic. That did not work for Blair Witch (2016), and it's no surprise that it didn't work here as well. This wasn't even in the "so bad it's good" camp unfortunately, and I am someone who will be curious to watch this regardless of any ratings. I do ask that you try and heed my warning when I say there is not much you are going to get from this movie. It wasn't scary, gripping, fun, exciting, or anything like that. Just a morose form of cinematic poppycock that probably came out five years later than it should have, and with the wrong story to boot. I just feel like they missed the mark on what makes Slender Man spooky, or they tried too heavily to rely on his spookiness to tell the story that they did.
Oh, and the first trailer ending shots of the girl in the dress is not in the film. I don't even know who that girl is suppose to be, because she is not in the film either heh. Sorry to spoil you there (more of an anti-spoiler).
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