×

Film Review: ‘Beware the Slenderman’

A grotesque recent Midwestern crime underlines the potentially dangerous influence of internet exposure on impressionable young minds.

With:
Angie Geyser, Matt Geyser, Bill Weier, Kristi Weier, Trevor J. Blank, Brad Kim, Richard Dawkins, Jack Zipes, Tom Haynes, Abigail Baird, Jacqueline Woolley, Hope R., Dianna Niesen, Melody Weier.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5329376/

Parents might monitor their kids’ time online a little more closely after watching “Beware the Slenderman,” the un-heartwarming story of two real-life little girls who nearly stabbed a classmate to death because they thought it would please a fictive bogeyman who’s gained recent traction on the internet. Irene Taylor Brodsky’s documentary is mostly a straightforward, inevitably engrossing true-crime tale. But it does implicitly make the larger point that letting kids spend umpteen hours interacting with the virtual rather than real world can reap results from the mildly antisocial to the homicidally delusional. This HBO production slated for a TBA cable premiere could attract offshore broadcast dates as well. In related news, the “Slenderman” (or Slender Man) mythology itself is, unsurprisingly, being developed by Screen Gems as fodder for a horror feature.

Brodsky cuts to the chase by beginning with a brief “Blair Witch”-style reenactment, cutting to TV news footage relating the grisly events of May 31, 2014, when one preteen girl was found alive after crawling out of a Waukesha, Wis., park’s woods with 19 stab wounds. Asked who did it, she said, “My best friend.” It took very little time for police to apprehend classmates Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, found attempting to walk to Nicolet National Forest (though it was several hours’ drive away). That was where they believed “Slender Man” lived, and where he would now accept them as “proxies” under his protection, having “proven” themselves by killing (or so they thought) Morgan’s bestie since 4th grade. They’d convinced themselves this mysterious figure might harm them and/or they families if they didn’t commit just such an extreme act.

Who was/is Slender Man? Someone who didn’t exist before 2009 (when he was created for an online PhotoShop art competition), and who in an off-line sense never truly existed at all — save in the fevered imaginations of those who subsequently adopted him as an object of deliciously fearful obsession. He’s a tall (purportedly nine to 14 feet), faceless, tentacled being who preys upon children … or protects them, or both, depending on who’s spinning the ever-evolving mythos. (This morbidly romantic figure and its effect on the subjects here can’t help but recall the noirish spectra of celluloid villain Robert Mitchum as he impacted the similarly gullible adolescent girls of Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures,” and their own murderous real-life inspirations.)

Unlike faddish ‘net-fed trends like ice-bucket challenges or planking, Slenderman shows all signs of entering popular folklore, as demonstrated by the vast quantities of fan fiction, art, videos and “sighting” claims online. He may be a newcomer among such “urban legends,” but as some among the many (mostly psychiatric) experts consulted here suggest, he’s just the latest in a long line of scarily insinuating child-abductor figures dating back at least to the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” fairy tale.

The drawn-out trial (still very much in progress) has the two girls tried as adults, their attempted-murder charges necessitating that status under state law. Attempts to have the case transferred to juvenile court have so far been unsuccessful. Meanwhile the girls (now visibly teens rather than children) remain in lockup. Their victim, hospitalized for a week, recovered — physically, at least.

Much media coverage heightened the notion that these hitherto well-behaved, honor-roll-making products of leafy, comfortable white suburbia were little “monsters” whose families must’ve been asleep at the wheel. Brodsky suggests a different scenario in which it’s harder to point fingers — save at the influence that web content can have on impressionable young minds.

It does emerge that one of the fathers had been diagnosed as a high-functioning schizophrenic. Nothing in that girl’s prior behavior, however, had made it obvious she was developing a more serious degree of schizophrenia, one already making it difficult for her to discern between reality and fantasy. The other girl’s parents knew she was interested in “Slender Man,” but figured it was a harmless, Halloween-y sort of escapism, like reading “Twilight” or “Harry Potter” books. These were loving homes where aberrant behavior could not be explained by past abuse or other domestic discord; the shell-shocked parents are articulate, sympathetic interviewees. Though the filmmakers did not have direct access to the kids involved, we see footage of their police questionings when first apprehended.

The assembly is unfussily well-judged on all levels.

Film Review: 'Beware the Slenderman'

Reviewed at Hot Docs, May 7, 2016. (Also in SXSW, Seattle International fests.) Running time: 114 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) An HBO Documentary Films presentation in association with Vermillion Films. (Sales: HBO, New York.) Produced by Irene Taylor Brodsky, Sophie Harris. Executive producer, Sheila Nevins.

Crew: Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky. Camera (color, HD), Nick Midwig; editor, Gladys Mae Murphy; music, Benoit Charest; sound, Sophie Harris; sound designer/re-recording mixer, Lance Limbocker.

With: Angie Geyser, Matt Geyser, Bill Weier, Kristi Weier, Trevor J. Blank, Brad Kim, Richard Dawkins, Jack Zipes, Tom Haynes, Abigail Baird, Jacqueline Woolley, Hope R., Dianna Niesen, Melody Weier.

More Film

  • A Brinks armored truck pulls into

    Layoffs Hit Fox After Disney Completes Deal

    Layoffs have hit Fox following the entertainment company’s sale to Disney. The staff cuts are hitting employees at the SVP, EVP, and president level. Senior staff is expected to be among the first to be impacted. However, the cuts will be deep, with the ax falling hardest of Fox’s film team. There could be as [...]

  • Emily Blunt in Talks for Inspirational

    Emily Blunt in Talks to Star in Annapurna Drama 'Not Fade Away'

    Emily Blunt is in negotiations to star in Annapurna’s inspirational drama “Not Fade Away” with David O. Russell and John Krasinski producing. The project is based on Rebecca Alexander’s 2015 memoir “Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found.” Alexander was born with a rare genetic mutation called Usher syndrome type III and [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    Alfonso Cuaron's 'Roma' Nabs Nine Nominations for 6th Premios Platino

    As was widely anticipated, Alfonso Cuaron’s triple Oscar-winning “Roma” dominated the 6th Premios Platino nominations, unveiled Thursday at Hollywood’s legendary Roosevelt Hotel, the site of the very first Oscars. It snagged a total of nine nominations, including best film, director, art direction, cinematography, and acting for its two Oscar-nominated actresses, Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de [...]

  • Stephen Bruno

    Stephen Bruno Exits Netflix for Top Marketing Job at MGM

    Netflix global marketing chief Stephen Bruno has exited his post for MGM, where he has been named chief marketing officer. His departure follows that of Netflix CMO Kelly Bennett and marks a major shake-up for the streaming giant. Bruno had been with the streamer since 2014, and is known as an innovator. He joins MGM [...]

  • Laura Linney Cast in Viggo Mortensen

    Laura Linney Joins Viggo Mortensen's Family Drama 'Falling'

    Laura Linney, Hannah Gross, and Terry Chen have joined the cast of Viggo Mortensen’s family drama “Falling.” The movie will be Mortensen’s directorial debut. He’s also producing, wrote the screenplay, and is playing one of the two leading roles in a story about a son’s relationship with his aging father. Production is currently underway in Toronto. [...]

  • Maya Erskine-Jack Quaid Romcom 'Plus One'

    Maya Erskine-Jack Quaid Rom-Com 'Plus One' Sells Ahead of Tribeca Premiere

    Romantic comedy “Plus One,” starring Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid, has sold to RLJE Films in a pre-emptive deal for low seven figures ahead of its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. “Plus One” is written and directed by Jeff Chan (“Adam Ruins Everything”) and Andrew Rhymer (Pregame). The film also stars Ed Begley, [...]

  • Alan Horn Disney

    Walt Disney Studios Leaders Say Fox Deal Represents 'Exciting New Chapter'

    Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and President Alan Bergman are asking Fox staffers to be patient while the company begins the complicated work of integrating the two motion picture teams. Both men were on Fox’s Century City lot for meetings with executives. In a memo, Bergman and Horn said they would try to be [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content