A Slender Man movie might well have been a commercially viable option earlier this decade, when the spectral figure created by Eric Knudsen for somethingawful.com was one of the internet’s creepier memes. That was before the near-fatal 2014 stabbing of a 12-year-old Wisconsin girl by classmates claiming to serve the fictional creation, the objections the victim’s father raised to the then-shooting project, and the cuts designed to both appease the relatives and secure a teen-baiting rating. Sony have hustled the results out into scattered late-night slots without fanfare, perhaps understandably, as there’s not much left to distribute: if you thought the bogeyman was slender, wait till you see the film.
Writer David Birke and director Sylvain White here graft together material from The Ring, the Blair Witches and Wes Craven’s Nightmares, garnished with an incongruous dash of the Traveling Pants franchise. (Arguably just the pants bit.) In a nondescript Massachusetts backwater, four broadly interchangeable BFFs stray during a sleepover on to a website blasting epileptic-unfriendly imagery. When one subsequently vanishes, the others begin roaming dark woods and shadowy reference libraries with torches, attempting to bargain with a figure who strikes the eye as less disturbing than Jacob Rees-Mogg. Makeweight and unfinished, this Slender Man’s featureless visage mostly recalls those balls-on-sticks deployed as placeholders during the filming of effects movies.
Despite the cuts, what’s going on around him proceeds with a vague internal logic, albeit of the dull, flat, relentlessly unoriginal kind: here’s a stock horror scenario, White proposes, and here’s how it generally plays out. What’s been vanished from this theatrical version is any trace of blood or dread. Too often, these scenes default to indifferently timed jump scares, mothballed dream imagery, and cinematography so artlessly murky it’s no surprise characters keep disappearing (faceless ghouls almost become normalised when you can’t see anybody’s eyes).
The modest, generally well-behaved young crowd I saw the film with on opening night tolerated an hour before shrugging exitwards or trawling their phones for Baby Shark remixes; they missed one late, semi-arresting sylvan sequence that might have served as a legitimate showstopper in a less obviously compromised production. Still, when the multiplex’s cultural reference points are this vaporous and moment-specific, can we really blame the target audience for moving on, or simply failing to see the outcome at all ?