Forget Slender Man's thin body, faceless head and eerie vibe. Sure, the character's unsettling appearance was designed to frighten people;however the scariest thing about the lingering internet meme is the fact that it still exists. It's been nine years since Something Awful forum user Eric Knudsen came up with the macabre figure as part of a photoshop contest to create paranormal images, and not only is it still doing the digital rounds, it's making the leap onto the big screen as well.
Longevity is one thing. Flogging a nearly decade-old creepypasta — the online equivalent of telling ghost stories around a campfire — is something else entirely. In the film that shares its name, Slender Man has a knack for timing, but Slender Man the movie definitely doesn't. In fact, this flimsy horror effort doesn't have a knack for much, other than sticking to the dullest of formulas. A group of teenage girls view an unnerving video, begin to notice weird occurrences and then start disappearing. If you'd like us to wake you up when it stops sounding generic, then you're in for quite a lengthy snooze.
When Massachusetts pals Katie (Annalise Basso), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair), Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles) and Wren (Joey King) get bored at a slumber party, they decide to switch from watching porn to discovering what this Slender Man character is all about. A week later, Katie goes missing during a class trip to a cemetery, and her drunken dad blames her newfound obsession with the occult. That sparks the rest of the gang into action, taking advice from a mysterious online source and trying to offer Slender Man an exchange to get their missing friend back. To their surprise (but not to the audience's), that plan doesn't pan out well. Slender Man isn't someone to be bargained with, it seems.
Given that Ringu and The Ring already exist (with several sequels to both), you might expect Slender Man to reach beyond an already well-worn premise. Given that The Craft exists as well, you might expect more than just a group of goth-leaning besties trifling with ominous forces, too. Sadly, we can keep playing this game, and the outcome remains the same. The film follows terrorised, victimised girls in the same US state that's infamous for the Salem witch trials, but it draws zero modern-day parallels. And, while it stems from the pen of screenwriter David Birke — the scribe behind the vastly superior Isabelle Huppert-led rape-revenge thriller Elle — Slender Man boasts no signs of complexity either.
Along with by-the-numbers performances, bland shots of spooky forests and a paper-thin message about the corruptive power of going viral, among Slender Man's many missteps is the squandering of its eponymous villain. The elongated figure is literally yesterday's news now, but the film does little more than point out that it looks creepy and thrust it at the screen for a few jump-scares. That's the kind of laziness that usually plagues direct-to-video sequels, arrogantly believing that name recognition will do half of the work, and that occasionally pointing the camera at something sinister will do the rest. In that spirit, it should come as no surprise that director Sylvain White also has derivative threequel I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer on his resume.
If there's one positive aspect to Slender Man, though, it's this: thankfully, it doesn't try to capitalise upon the real-life stabbing committed in the titular entity's name. Back in 2014, two 12-year-old girls attacked one of their friends in an effort to impress the internet's favourite boogeyman, adding an extra level of discomfort to the Slender Man saga. The case was covered in 2016 documentary Beware the Slenderman, which is straightforward but still vastly more intelligent and engaging than this fictional take on the meme. Still, watching Slender Man, viewers get the feeling that the film might've once cribbed a few cues from reality, then cut them from the final version —the movie is so drab and cobbled-together that it seems like the work of filmmakers trying to salvage a bad situation. Or, that could just be the kindest way to look at this scare-free, intrigue-free mess.