The Man family have been stalwarts of the franchise horror movie scene since at least 1980, when Boogey (aka Bogey) made his screen debut, and their fortunes have been on the rise since 1992, when Candy carved out a territory for himself with a hook. Lately, we’ve seen showings for Moth, Midnight, Tall, Bye Bye, another Boogey and Monster, plus quite a few outings for their apparent close relative Bloody Mary. Along the way, the campfire tale evolved into the urban legend … mutating in the last decade or so into the creepypasta, where internet fandoms spring up around versions of the old child-snatcher tale, and vast multi-creator collages of memes and doctored images and staged (or even actual) spooky clips come up with spooks who gain at least passing pop culture prominence. The documentary Beware the Slenderman is about the well-publicised case of two young teenage girls who got so into the craze that they tried to kill a classmate in an attempt to summon the title fiend and become his proxies.
So, here’s the Slender Man movie – which seems to have had a troubled production to go by the absence of scenes shown in the trailer (and even one whole character) and defaults to a variant on Bloody Mary (or The Ring) for its plot rather than exploring the intricate, and hard-to-buy-the-rights-of, mythos that all the cool kids have moved on from already. Victor Surge (aka Eric Knudsen), who first designed Slender Man and doctored up some photos, gets a credit, but the screenplay by David Birke – who had trudged through gigs like Gacy, Freeway Killer and 13 Sins, with a weird blip of a credit on Paul Verhoeven’s Elle – is a by-the-numbers teen-girl horror flick, along the lines of Wish Upon, Ouija, Friend Request or a half-dozen others. Four girls – Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Wren (Joey King, who was the lead in Wish Upon), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) and Katie (Annalise Basso, from Ouija Origin of Evil and Oculus) – watch a spooky online clip, and somehow invite Slender Man to mess with them. Played inevitably by Javier Botet, though no real physical actor was really needed, Slender Man is a tall thin, faceless dude in a suit with optional twirling tentacles … and the expected net-search infodump not only turns up a couple of the actual clips and images which have contributed to the creepypasta but links to the Pied Piper of Hamelin and that similar nightmare figure who has been kept busy in Slumber, Mara and others. After watching the clip, the girls all get weirdly obsessive, and when Katie disappears on a school trip to a Revolutionary War cemetery her friends perform a ritual of sacrificing something they love to get her back but only cause more tsuris, involving Hallie’s younger sister Lizzie (Taylor Richardson).
Director Sylvain White has been toiling in episodic TV (The Mentalist, Sleepy Hollow, Person of Interest, etc) since The Losers didn’t do as well as expected, and this film’s underperformance seems likely to send him back there – so perhaps summoning the Slender Man is a bad idea for everyone. Despite all its problems, the film has its strong points – it takes a slightly unusual approach to the slasher movie formula, in that what stings about the plot isn’t so much the body count but the way that the friend group we meet early on and have a good feeling about is dismantled not only by supernatural pressures but by the natural frictions between the girls. It’s off-balanced from the start by the way the top-billed King isn’t actually the lead (Telles is), and Wren is the one who becomes most crazily obsessed while her best friend strikes out on her own and starts seeing a cute guy (Alex Fitzalan) who still doesn’t distract her from the gathering gloom. The girls only watch the damn clip in the first place because they’ve heard the guys are planning to – but it later transpires that the other group wimped out and did something else that evening instead. Adults barely figure – they mostly don’t have character names – and the film is good about the way the girls rely on each other for (often unhelpful) information, and randoms on the internet for (often misleading) advice. The ending is even affectingly odd, but the film still has the feel of something arriving too late after too many revisions and turning up at the spook party well after it’s over.