When a release by a major studio is bad, it’s usually just because the movie is awful by comparison to other films in the genre. Fifty Shades Darker is an awful thriller. Films like Dirty Grandpa or The Emoji Movie fail to reach the low bar one expects from those sorts of bad comedy films. Sure, 2018 had its fair share of stinkers – Truth or Dare, Samson, and Mile 22 are some of my favorites – but none are as bad as Slender Man.
The film rights to Slender Man were purchased in 2016 by Mythology Entertainment, and Screen Gems is the Sony studio behind the release in conjunction with Mythology and two other companies. You know what they say about cooks and broth; the more the merrier! The reason the 2016 date is important is that these announcements about the film’s production came almost exactly two years after the Slender Man stabbings in Wisconsin. As if that case wasn’t high profile enough, HBO made a documentary about it that premiered at South by Southwest in March 2016. So of course the filmmakers couldn’t create anything remotely similar to that case, right? Right?
Wrong. They couldn’t avoid using teenage girls as the protagonists, apparently. They couldn’t avoid having one of those girls get way too into Slender Man, and then try to harm her friends while attempting to contact him. Those are obviously vital to the telling of a Slender Man story, and the only tales that exist on the internet contain those elements. They couldn’t come up with any interesting backstory or mythology for Slender Man (heck, forget interesting, it’s practically non-existent outside of a brief description read off a website and vague comparison to other myths and legends through various web pages), they couldn’t make it like folklore, nor could they use creepy animation. No, they went with a live-action modern setting in every-town USA so as to differentiate themselves from the crop of wannabe-campy horror films released every year.
This Slender Man story is about the aforementioned teenage girls who are wholly uninteresting – we are asked to care about them because they’re the protagonists. They line up with their beaus at one point so we know who is a love interest to whom (it doesn’t really matter), and the next thing you know the girls are drinking vodka, watching adult videos, and summoning Jack Skellington’s butler. We get the impression that the filmmakers think that trees are terrifying. We get so many shots of ominous trees, because Slender Man lives in and/or is a tree. It’s like a paranormal take on The Happening. The film isn’t super clear on his powers, other than he drives people mad and chats with them online to lure them to the woods. I guess he gets really good signal in those woods. The characters all treat Slender Man as if he’s a real thing that might exist, rather than known fiction. No one goes, “maybe those videos and photos are fake. You know it’s just a story on the internet, and a human made that video we watched?” The skepticism that does exist isn’t an argument, it’s just contradiction and denial of the film’s plot.
I think someone along the line thought this was a scathing critique of kids these days and their darn social media. There’s a really clunky metaphor about viruses (real dialogue: “He gets in your head like a virus.” “What kind of virus?” “Like a computer virus that infects your hard drive, but instead of your hard drive, it’s your brain.” So like a…virus? Are you kidding me, movie?) and how Slender Man spreads, especially through chat rooms and embedded YouTube videos on spooky forums. If they wanted this to be a scary statement, they failed because it’s mostly just boring.
That’s my biggest gripe with the film; if you’re going to make something in poor taste, don’t take any half-measures. Give us the eye stabbings and the glossectomies, all of the worst you have to offer. Make it memorable for the cool effects, or at least the shock value. Make something about your film unique! Instead, we get almost nothing tense or frightening. The script is littered with poor dialogue and teen melodrama the audience doesn’t care about. There’s poor editing, such as a scene where the girls say a laptop was confiscated by the police, and only to magically have it moments later, or characters who disappear without real resolution. The plot is more like a paranormal movie mad lib than anything particular to Slender Man. It isn’t sinister and atmospheric, it’s driven by spooky strings and jump scares.
Slender Man is the worst film of 2018, and not just because of its relative poor quality and unoriginality. This film is offensive for its makers not growing a conscience until they thought it might cost them money. They’re fine with putting in the effort to make crap while not caring about families involved, but someone saying something about the trailer was the moment they saw the error of their ways and decided to cut the film to make it both offensive and worse. Everyone involved in its production is awarded no points, and may God have mercy on their souls.
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