Slender Man (2018)
Does whatever a Slender can.
So let me walk you through my process of thought here. At some point, I discover that they are making a movie about the contest-winning and much pasta’d Slenderman. I think to myself “oh boy, that offers up some possibilities to be a rather creepy movie - but I bet they’ll mess it up.” It rolls around to no word - and if there is any word, it sure isn’t filled with excitement and grandeur. No, most the mainstream heard about Slendy-boi is unfortunately tied to a real world cluster of idiots using something that’s been known to be fake since the start as a reason for their idiot deeds - which of course the mainstream didn’t know about because they don’t peruse the places such a thing was birthed. Still, it didn’t dampen my interest in seeing this movie when it got out - the fact it took so long to get to something like Netflix really didn’t enhance my expectations, but bad movies and I can still get along. Tonight I check out if thinner is the winner, so package that bug spray and head to the woods - tonight we peek at Slender Man.
Now, I’m not going to say I’m a mass consumer of Slender media - I know of it’s origin, and I’ve read one or two CPs about him - not my particular jam honestly, I personally always found the pseudo misnamed skin walker stories much better. I knew some enterprising folks made a pretty basic looking game of him, and more than any of that I could recall a YouTube channel named Marble Hornets that had some a great series of videos that gave you what you wanted out of a Slender project, until it started to get away from Slender and turned more into just a crazy guy in a bad semi-clear plastic mask, at which point I honestly lost interest. Now, the reason I’m bringing this up is to make a point here regarding the lore around our sharp dressed bogey boy - it originated from the net. From the net, people latched on to it, and it went everywhere with it’s story. People just started taking it up and writing whatever they felt with it - much in the same way that the internet took the Native American folklore of skin walkers - their actual contextually given name is known to me, but I refuse to butcher it’s pronunciation - and turned it into stories of any old friend suddenly being something that’s really just stinky and wearing their friends flayed skin. What this long winded proclamation exists to point out in more sharp a point is thus: with lore being everywhere after becoming “open source” so to speak, it’s hard to really judge the actions of the movie in any real particular sense of accuracy. The original was a mere few photos with a bit of an excerpt to add to the spook. There wasn’t really this guy that’s actually some kind of wood sprite with giant spider-tree tentacles snatching people up - just the implication that this mysterious individual was somehow implicated in disappearances. In that regards, the core sticks well, sometimes shining out more nicely than others.
And I’m gonna get into that a bit. This movie honestly had no reason to be as good as it was - which isn’t to say that this thing is a really good movie. At best I’d call it mediocre, relegated to a land of misleading trailers and PG-13 teen horror with a small selection of stand out moments. Where those moments shine is it’s use of that core original implementation of Slender - a shadowy human like figure that’s not quite right, off in the background or the edges of your vision that makes it not stand out but become all the more creepy and eye catching once it’s noticed. You’ll watch a scene, and the framing leaves a bit of space with which to play - but not obviously so, unless you are looking for it. It looks like it’s framed as it should be, until you notice a stretching shadow in the background that the camera never directs you to look at. Maybe the camera is just sweeping by the woods, and there happens to be a tree that isn’t quite the right shape, and indeed it’s because it’s Slender. Future things added on, via games the Hornet series or just sheer force of diverse creepypasta contributors finds it’s way in as well - electronic distortions, shadowy tendrils, the driving madness. The movie treats Slender well in story, up until (I feel) he becomes some weird tree spirit or plays a more in-your-face offense line role.
The effects work doesn’t treat slender nearly as well. One would assume that it would be easy to do slender, and would surely point to a low-budget version someone else did that looks great. Slender never really comes off as being in the scene here. Perhaps it’s the over-use of the shadowy tendrils, hardly ever leaving him alone in his shots. Maybe it’s the somewhat bark-like texturing on his otherwise void, blank, colorless face. Maybe it’s the closeups. The rather unfortunate side of this is that he’s also the main brunt of the effects. While occasionally used well - as pointed out in that last paragraph - the only other real effects work on display plays off of his terror and mind-breaking side. A vertigo effect, which looks good at first than slowly looks worse the longer it’s used. A facial distortion effect, sometimes simple and sometimes setup in a dizzying rapid fire of motion and stillness (which actually looks pretty good, despite some of the facial expressions looking a bit goofy on the character it happens to). If your goal was to see some violence in your horror movie though, like any eye-stabbings or roof jumping that the official trailer shows, you’ve caught them in an utter lie unless there’s some secret cut kicking that Netflix doesn’t provide. I didn’t even know of this until I had to get screenshots for use in the review, to which for Blu Ray discs I go to official trailers I can find on YouTube due to the inability to screen capture from BR discs, and whilst skimming through saw no less than 5 scenes that didn’t exist in the movie I got to watch.
Alas, Slender Man is a movie about more than just Slender. Let me rephrase, it contains more than just Slender! The main cast of actresses in our troubled teen clique aren’t terrible at their jobs most the time. Some do better than others, but for the most part it’s not painful to watch. This is good, because the main screen time is on them. There’s a bit of overacting at times, certainly some underacting at others, but nothing that stands out as straight up bad without at least a little direction to be it. The characters are perhaps a bit more likeable than the average teen movie girls can end up being, but at the same time the movie seems to go out of the way to make them seem different without actually giving them any character in doing so. They are distinguishable by looks, one passing comment makes it seem on is the more athletic and smart one, but largely nothing is really given to them to build them up outside their plight unless you count a scene of reacting to some “naughty videos” online or the one with the least screen time expressing her dislike of her life situation. If you are looking for smart actions out of characters, this isn’t the horror movie for it either. Some of it could be hand-waved off with “but they are so frightened” or “Slender-Madness” I suppose, but you won’t find any real moments of “about time you made a right choice!“ in this movie.
The performances can be a roller coaster at times, as can the effects, but the sound department keeps it all pretty level and feet on the ground. You don’t have any real issues hearing things (at least, after you turn down your noisy darn AC unit) and the balance of it all is well done. They do throw in the “gotcha!” stings here and there, at times accompanying a jump scare, but overall the general disposition of the music proper is to enhance the suspense, dread, and tensions of either things coming or perceived to be happening. It will also allow Slender-like activities to happen at times without bringing attention to it with audio, which is a nice little bonus and something I can and do appreciate. Nothing in here is going to remain for any amount of time as far as audio goes, outside perhaps the dull bass wubbing of Slendy creeping on people. Still, at least it is something that I don’t have to knock around with a foot while saying good things about it.
Oddly, the pacing is a bit strange. The front end feels like it’s traveling a hundred miles an hour, skipping expanses of time with barely any notice to the watcher at all, until finally the Slender plot begins and things slow way up to a more generic horror pacing. Spooky thing, bad choice, research, spooky thing, repeat. It doesn’t overstay anything even when it slows down a little at the end, but the final payoff feels more like you actually won pennies instead of a jackpot. Part of this might be, I suspect, due to cut scenes involving an escaped crazy - seen only in the trailer. Outside of the time passing being somewhat amorphous, and the lack of any real form of character growth (if you even had character to begin with), it does at the very least handle most the horror elements quite well. A few misdirects, a few good shots playing on the peripheral, messing with reality, and a few really cool shots that could almost be considered camera tricks as well. When it fumbles the horror it usually ends up feeling more like a splat than a solid thump, and part of it could as far as I know just have been a puttering out of ideas by the time it came to how to end the movie.
By and large, this was better than I expected. While by no means a great and debateably even a good movie, this is far from being terrible as my initial expectations were set to giving what it came out of. They had some moments where they played really well with it, even allowing in that element that makes creepypasta photos so fun - the complete ability to not see the spooky element at all unless really looking for it. It throws in enough recognizable traits of the villain that, although it doesn’t allow it’s self to be the exemplar of what could be done with it, it doesn’t make you hate what they’ve done either. Some might find it fine as a rental, although I’d strongly suggest not going further than that unless it’s in a five dollar bin or something until you figure out if you like it in the first place. This is also the one movie that I can actually say that the trailer is worthless for, because it includes so much content the movie doesn’t. For a movie that could have been better, it was actually pleasantly better than I expected.