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Slenderman in Film

Slenderman (2018), our long-limbed friend’s venture into big budget feature film, has been met with… let’s say “mixed” reviews. Ok they were terrible. And, not to blow my own trumpet, but I was skeptical from the start. Slenderman is one of the most mainstream internet myths right now, but was born from just a doctored photograph and it is these humble beginnings that I believe must be respected. Many of the other attempts at Slenderman films have also suffered from poor reviews but, honestly, there are some real gems out there. On that note, let’s look back at some of Slender’s other appearances in film, beginning with how I first stumbled upon the Slenderman legend.

Marble Hornets (2009-2014)

So I found Marble Hornets when a friend sent me the first video in the series, telling me how scary it was. I sat in bed, watching it on my laptop, terrified as the camera pans round to show a motionless Slenderman standing on a porch. This YouTube series is a long and convoluted selection of found-footage episodes, which begins by tracking the disappearance of a young filmmaker and his descent into madness – presumably at the hands of Slenderman. This is a hugely addictive series and just when you think something might be resolved, another mystery is thrown your way. Marble Hornets is aware of its platform on YouTube and uses it to create a Blair Witch type “is this genuine found footage?” question in the viewers mind. Maybe I’m biased since this was my introduction to Slenderman, but I think it’s brilliant.

Fathom (2013)

Fathom is just 7 minutes long so doesn’t have much time to make an impact. To get around this it uses an old man to narrate an horrific event from his youth. In this film, Slenderman is portrayed in a fascinating light; definitely scary but there is something almost clumsy about the way he moves. This might be down to a costume malfunction but I like to think it was a deliberate choice to add another dimension to his character and to the myth. The film is obviously very low-budget but, as is often the way in horror, this just adds to its charm.  I won’t say too much about the plot since it is so short but I will say that it is brilliantly shot, strangely moving, and definitely worthy of 7 minutes of your life.

The Slender Man (2013)

The Slender Man is one of the Slender films that keeps to the myth of Slenderman taking children and, much like Marble Hornets, it uses a found-footage/documentary style to add to the realism of the film and the myth. I feel as though this film could have been cut in half and been much more effective yet, despite a clearly low budget, the appearances of Slenderman are really quite creepy – simple but they work. I am someone who is always for “less is more”, however the gaps between things happening are so long and so drawn out, it can be a struggle to make it through to the end. With all that said, watch the beginning to see every parent’s worst nightmare played out in front of you.

Victim (2013)

This film won ‘Best Short Film’ at the Duke of York’s Cinema, Brighton, making me think it would certainly be a worthy addition to the Slenderman mythos. Interestingly, however, this film doesn’t really add much to the lore – more that we discover it with our protagonist as we see him looking up Slenderman on the internet. This, honestly, makes the film seem super relatable because we all know that’s probably what we would do too. We also see very little movement from Slenderman himself with several ominous shots of him just standing there, waiting, harking back nicely to the original photographs of Slender and reminding us why he was so scary to begin with. This is added to with next to no dialogue – there is a little bit around half way through but, on the whole, Victim does a brilliant job of making us feel as isolated as possible. This film is only a mere 14 minutes long, but incorporates some beautiful shots of Gothic English landscapes.

Beware the Slenderman (2016)

I know, as horror fans, we think we are capable of watching pretty much anything but Beware the Slenderman is not for the faint of heart. Telling the story of the real life stabbing of a young girl by her friends, this very much real documentary gives us not only some fascinating insights into digital folklore but also the seriousness of undiagnosed mental health issues. I must admit I found much of it unbearable as we are shown police interviews with the two young girls as they tell how they planned their attempted murder of their best friend in order to please Slenderman. We also see the trial, interviews with the parents, and are privy to phone calls the families have with their daughters while they are in juvenile prison. Thankfully their young victim survived and is now back at school, but this remains a tragic story and probably one of the most disturbing documentaries I have ever watched. Not to be viewed as any sort of light entertainment but perhaps necessary viewing as part of the sadly ongoing debate about the effects of the horror genre on unstable minds.

Slender (2016)

To sum this film up I would say it is The Blair Witch Project meets Marble Hornets. That sounds pretty good right? Well, not quite. This film, as you could probably guess, is shot in a  found-footage style, following two guys wanting to make a documentary – literally any documentary will do, as they do not even have a subject yet. They meet a woman whose sons have gone missing and she is muttering to herself about a man/creature that sounds a lot like our buddy Slenderman. They obviously don’t believe her but decide this would make a great documentary topic nevertheless. To start with the positives, I really enjoyed the acting in this film. It is super believable. However, at points it just seems as though someone has left the camera running on their phone and it becomes like watching someone show you pictures from their holiday – blurry photos, photos with their fingers over the lense, duplicates, photos of people you don’t know and don’t care about.

Flay (2017)

Flay is definitely one of the more original additions to the Slender mythos. It opens with a flashback of atrocities faced by Native Americans – we are told via a narrator that they were stripped of their identity and we see a photograph of a Native American family where they are all wearing suits. We then discover that a powerful Shaman who fought back against this oppression was tortured and had his face “flayed” (see where this is going?) but, before he died, he cursed the chains he was tied with. This all happens within the first 5 minutes and we are then brought forward to the modern world where we follow the story of a young woman attempting to save her brother from an evil spirit – a spirit who probably killed her mother too. Now, usually, I am not a fan of creating backstories to monsters – personally, I find the motiveless psychopath much more terrifying. However, Flay definitely sold me on this. Ultimately the rest of the film is ok and doesn’t quite live up to the beginning, but it is definitely worth a watch for a different take on the Slender myth.

Slender Man (2018)

Finally, we have our latest Slenderman installment. Due to the tragic circumstances surrounding the stabbing in Wisconsin the film met with a lot of understandable backlash. Sadly, even with controversy aside, it just does not do justice to the lore. Slenderman captured the imaginations of the internet by deftly toeing the line between complex lore and a simple premise – a pale man in a suit. There is, however, little that spurs on the imagination in this film. It is, by all accounts, just another teen horror flick, and not in an entertaining 80s “let’s make a drinking game out of this” way – this is not to take away from lead actor Joey King who truly tries her best with some unfortunate, generic dialogue. Reviews are often unkind to the horror genre so it is wise to take them with a pinch of salt and come to your own conclusions. But, as a fan of the more terrible side of the genre, this is sadly just formulaic and, considering the film’s origins, kind of disappointing. Maybe this is down to cuts? Maybe a lack of experience in horror directing? Either way, the fact of the matter is Slenderman could be replaced by any monster in this film, and the plot would remain the same.

So there are some Slenderman stories to keep you up at night. Before I sign off, I’d like to give an honorary mention Windigo (2013) since it is an easy find on YouTube but for which only one thing need be said: skip the first hour. A second honorary mention to Pyewacket (2017) since there are obviously links between this story and Slenderman – the woods, a shadowy stalking figure – but it does not seem to be playing into the Slenderman mythology in the same way as the other films on this list. That said, it is an absolute must-see. Genuinely one of my favourites of recent times.

Not to take away from the longer films on this list but, if you can’t tell, my preferred way of viewing Slender Man is in shorts. He is such a brilliantly quintessential monster who lends himself to the classic short-story style of ghost story, or even a round-the-campfire style. Maybe that’s because, in his original form, he is simply just a photograph. All you need is a glimpse of him and any more than that ruins the illusion.

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