Heavy on scares, slim on story.
In the modern horror cinematic landscape, films like Hereditary and A Quiet Place have proven that creating a truly terrifying visual experience requires not only jump-scares, but also a solid story with engaging characters. Slender Man, directed by Sylvain White (The Losers), only gets half of this horror cocktail right, overlooking the vital narrative elements.
The story, set in a small town in Massachusetts, follows four high school friends who one fateful night decide to summon the creepypasta internet phenomenon known as Slender Man. When one of the young ladies goes missing, the rest of the group begins to question their sanity as Slender Man starts to haunt their dreams and alter their perceptions of reality with frightening imagery and unpleasant sounds.
Our four heroines — Wren (Joey King), Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Katie (Annalise Basso), and Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) — are just an ordinary group of high school girls lifted straight out of any number of cliche teen dramas. There’s nothing extraordinary about them to keep the story stimulating, which makes it difficult to empathize with them when all hell breaks loose. Unlike the Losers’ Club from Stephen King’s IT or the gang from Stranger Things, this band of misfits is easily forgettable.
There’s also the problem with Slender Man’s overall commentary on society that’s never fully realized. Since the titular creature is a manifestation of the viral nature of the internet, one would think that the movie might offer some insight into how social media has the power to create horrific beings like Slender Man, but the story never quite goes there. Sure, there are moments when the girls are in chat rooms and message boards trying to figure how to defeat him, but all of it feels inauthentic and even a little dated. The websites they frequent look like something out of Sandra Bullock’s 1995 film, The Net, instead of the sleek, modern designs of Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Slender Man does, however, excel in the visual and sound departments. The score, composed by Game of Thrones and Westworld alums Ramin Djawadi and Brandon Campbell, oozes creepiness with its heavy use of string instruments, creating a foreboding atmosphere throughout the film. The harrowing opening credits alone quickly remind the viewer what kind of movie they’re about to see.
White also does an excellent job of creating terrifying visuals whenever the Slender Man is running amok, especially in the densely wooded areas. The pale faceless figure seems to appear out of nowhere, easily blending in with the surrounding forest. The movie lures your eyes into searching for Slender Man in every scene, which heightens the already tense mood. Sadly, sound and visuals alone can’t keep Slender Man afloat.
Slender Man (Javier Botet) is definitely the movie’s main attraction, even though he typically sticks to the shadows and doesn’t utter a single word. He’s truly an imposing figure, and while the film’s PG-13 rating doesn’t allow for oodles of blood splatter, his mere presence is enough to startle the bravest of souls. It’s just a shame that he wasn’t given a better backstory.
As with most supernatural movies, there’s that quintessential moment when one of the heroes goes to a library and does some research on whatever creature is haunting them. Even in this particular scene, the Slender Man’s history is rushed and incomplete. We’re never given a clear understanding on how his powers work and when exactly he can show up, like Freddy Krueger in your dreams or The Conjuring’s spirits that are trapped in certain homes. Instead of holding back more Slender Man (maybe for a potential sequel?), the movie would have been more effective if its villain were properly contextualized, to begin with.