We live in strange times indeed, where ideas in the media landscape is harvested with greater and greater speed. Are horror films becoming the cinematic equivalent of local news segments: alarmist, emotionally manipulative, and oversimplified? Meet Slender Man: a movie about a meme that kills and the terror that lurks in the hearts of preteen girls, a movie that questions the boundaries of “ripped from the headlines” drama.
When it comes to true crime and the twenty-four-hour news cycle, how soon is too soon? It was only four years ago that a real Slender Man-inspired assault left a young woman clinging to life after two so-called friends stabbed her nineteen times in his name and left her to die in a Wisconsin forest. While that real-life trauma could (eventually) inspire an intense, complex coming-of-age film in the vein of Heavenly Creatures, this adaptation tarts up the truth with a sickly green mist, the official color of otherworldly evil, and trite horror tropes. There’s barely any dialogue, and not really enough framing context, in the preview for us to know how the Slender Man story is told — but the flashes we do see (including a brutal sequence set in a school science class) make us think that the liberties being taken here are great. Whether they are great in quality or just in size remains to be seen.
Let’s rewind a bit: Slender Man is the creation of Eric Knudson, who first shared his image on the site Creepypasta back in 2009. Something about the thin, faceless figure hovering over innocent children in a black suit captivated viewers, who went on to create a veritable tome of mythos surrounding this creature and his crimes. This crowdsourced canon spans stories, web series, video games, and even independent movies. Two young women found this cache of content, and their imaginations went a little too far. Both have since been charged, pled guilty, and been found not guilty by reason of mental disease. It’s possible they will be confined to state hospitals well into their adulthood.
There are already petitions to stop Slender Man’s release and some theaters have vowed not to screen it, but usually that kind of “bad press” works for, not against, a genre film. Questionable taste aside, what worries us about this release is that it may misinform — ahem — older audiences about the dangers of memes, causing a hysterical, “reefer madness’-style crackdown on memes as an outlet for creative expression, especially among young people. We’ll have to wait until Slender Man’s May 18 release date to see how ill-advised or irresponsible it is, but until then, we’ll hope for the best and assume that it instead brings the mysterious and powerful spirit of the original Slender Man images to life.
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