Thursday, August 23, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: Slender Man

Slender Man was "written" by David Birke, and "directed" by Sylvain White.

Birke previously wrote Dark Town, Freeway Killer, 13 Sins and Elle. He co-wrote Gacy, and was an uncredited screenwriter on Dahmer. If you need someone to write a mediocre film about a serial killer, then Birke's your man!

White's had a similarly mediocre career, as he previously directed I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, Stomp The Yard (!), The Losers and The Mark Of The Angels- Miserere.

There's also a credit stating that the character of Slender Man was created by Victor Surge. More on that in a bit.

So how is it? Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... (sound of my soul escaping from my body). I can't remember the last time I was so bored by a movie. Normally if I see someone diddling with their phone in a darkened theater I feel like beating them with a sock full of Hot Wheels cars. That said, I came reeeeally close to taking out my own phone and playing Scrabble during Slender Man. It's that dull.

The "real life" story of Slender Man is far more interesting and entertaining than anything in this misfire of a film.

Back in 2009, Victor Surge (aka Eric Knudson) was playing around and Photoshopped a lanky spectral demon wearing a suit into several pictures, coining him "Slender Man". He posted the images on the Something Awful site, and they immediately struck a chord with the internet.

It wasn't long before others began mocking up their own Slender Man photos, as well as creating a whole mythology for him. The character began taking on a life of its own, far beyond its simple beginnings.

Tragedy struck in 2014, when two twelve year old girls from Wisconsin lured their friend into the woods and brutally stabbed her NINETEEN times, leaving her for dead. Fortunately the victim somehow managed to survive. Her attackers were arrested, and when asked why they did it, they said "Slender Man told them to." The two were placed in psychiatric institutions and remain there to this day.

All of a sudden, trying to scare people by making up stories about Slender Man wasn't quite as much fun as it used to be.

For some reason, Hollywood waited a full NINE years before deciding to make a movie based on the Slender Man meme. Jesus Christ, that's like a century in internet years! Maybe if they'd struck back when the iron was hot they might have had something, but nine years later? Who the hell cares about Slender Man in 2018?

Shortly after the trailer was released, the father of one of the one of the institutionalized girls claimed the movie was exploiting his daughter's tragedy. He needn't have worried. The Slender Man movie goes to great lengths to avoid any and all references to the stabbing, which is probably a good idea. 

Unfortunately the producers threw out the baby with the bath water, as they didn't use ANY of the previously established ideas and mythology. We're then left with an incredibly muddled film with a vaguely defined monster whose motives and powers are nebulous at best.

Slender Man was originally slated for a May 2018 release, but was pushed back to August. As readers of Bob Canada's BlogWorld know all too well, any time a movie's delayed for any reason, it's always a bad, bad sign.

Against all logic and reason, Slender Man has grossed $21 million against its minuscule $10 million budget.

Due to marketing and other hidden costs, modern movies generally need to gross twice their production budget just to break even. That rule doesn't apply here though, as Sony knew they had a dog on their hands and spent little or nothing to promote the film. That means the movie easily made back its budget, and turned a tidy little profit to boot, which sickens me to my core.


The "Plot:"
Hallie, Chloe, Katie and Wren (played by Joey King— the only recognizable face in the film) are four typical teens living in a sleepy small town. The movie subjects us to four hours of grating introductory banter between the girls as they joke around and natter incessantly to one another. OK, maybe it just seemed like hours. 

Between classes the gals take time to ogle a pack of popular guys, including Todd, the object of Hallie's desire (PLOT POINT, sort of). Wren overhears the guys discussing an upcoming party, where they plan on summoning the supernatural entity "Slender Man" for fun.

That night, Hallie and the others hang out in Katie's house, careful not to wake her perpetually drunken father. Wren brings up Slender Man, and suggests they try to summon him as well. The others are reluctant to try, but Wren's insistent for no good reason. She even finds a Slender Man website, complete with a helpful video explaining how to invoke him. Wow. Say what you will about him, but the guy knows how to market himself!

Wren hits the play button and the girls watch the video, which looks like a combination of Un Chien Andalou and the tape from The Ring. After it stops, the girls sit staring blankly into space for several minutes (just like the audience!).

The next day (or a week later, there's no way to tell), the girls go on a school field trip to a famous local cemetery (?). As the class trudges through the brush, Katie lags behind and begins staring intently into the woods. She hears strange voices and peers into the trees at something only she can see (something that's probably more interesting than the film she's in). Eventually the other girls realize she's no longer beside them, and when they turn around, Katie's nowhere to be found. GASP!

The police arrive and question the students for several hours, but no one saw what happened to Katie. The town mounts a massive search, but finds no trace of her.

Some time later, Hallie, Chloe and Wren sneak into Katie's house, hoping to find a clue as to her whereabouts. They search her room, find her laptop and take it back to Hallie's house. There they fire up the laptop, and discover that Katie was active on a Slender Man message board. They're stunned when they read a post in which she said she wanted to be taken by him. Wren contacts a member of the board, who tells her how to contact Slender Man and get Katie back.

That night (or days later
 again, it's impossible to tell), the three girls enter the woods where Katie disappeared. Per the website instructions, they each bring an item that's dear to them, as an offering to Slender Man in exchange for Katie. Wren passes out blindfolds, warning the girls not to look at Slender Man's blank "face." If they do, they'll be driven mad and die. Or something.

The girls blindfold themselves and take turns destroying their offerings. Right on cue, they hear three bells in the distance, which heralds Slender Man's arrival. As the third bell sounds, they hear him sneaking around behind them. In the hands of a talented director, this could have been a legitimately terrifying scene. Sadly, it's shot with all the tension of woman folding clothes at the laundromat.

Chloe panics and whips off her blindfold, accidentally looking the demon right in his blank face. She immediately runs screaming into the woods, as Slender Man disappears. Hallie and Wren search the forest and eventually find Chloe, who seems oddly distant. It's implied that her encounter with Slender Man has rendered her stoic and unemotional, but the acting in this movie's so bad it's hard to tell any difference.

That night (I guess?), Chloe's home alone. Suddenly Slender Man enters her house and glides up to her room. He begins choking her, but she glances in the mirror and sees she actually choking herself. She lets out a blood-curdling scream, and promptly disappears from the movie.

I cannot emphasize this enough that's the last time we see the Chloe character. Was she driven insane from her glimpse at Slender Man's face? Did he take her? Did she die? Apparently it's none of our concern.

Todd then decides this is the absolute best time to ask Hallie for a date. Despite the fact that two of her friends were just abducted by a supernatural entity, she happily accepts. For some reason she then walks to Todd's house instead of him picking her up. 

During their obligatory make-out session, she begins hallucinating that Todd's turning into Slender Man (I think). She screams and throws him off her. When Todd says what the hell, she explains that she and her friends watched the Slender Man video, and now all hell's breaking loose. She makes him promise not to watch the video too, even though it's clear he wasn't planning on it.

Wren goes to the library, which is still a thing in horror movies, and searches the internet for info on supernatural phenomenon. She then finds a book about electromagnetic entities or something, which says such beings can disrupt phones and TVs as they abduct people— usually children. Suddenly Wren sees Slender Man in the library, and he chases her through the aisles and steals her face (!). Of course this turns out to be another hallucination, and she runs screaming from the library.

Back at Hallie's house, her younger sister Lizzie has a major panic attack, screaming "He had no face!" or something like that. She's taken to the hospital and sedated. Hallie looks through Lizzie's phone, hoping to find the reason for her attack. She discovers that Wren contacted Hallie and got her to watch the Slender Man video, which triggered her attack.

Furious, Hallie storms off to Wren's house to confront her. She's shocked when she sees Wren on the roof, ready to jump. Hallie pulls her back in and asks why she made Lizzie watch the video. Wren says she hoped that by offering some new blood to Slender Man, he'd stop harassing the original group (I guess?). She says it didn't work though, as he only wants the four of them. Wren's then taken by Slender Man, right in front of Hallie's eyes.

Hallie realizes the only way to save Lizzie is to offer herself to Slender Man. She walks into the woods and calls for him. Just like that he appears, and apparently causes her to meld into a tree for some reason. Is this what happened to Katie and the others? We'll never know.

With the four girls dead or taken or whatever, Slender Man's satisfied and releases his hold on Lizzie. She makes a full recovery, and the movie ends with her voiceover warning people that Slender Man's like a virus that's spread by passing on his legend, so just say no to his video and this movie.


Slender Man is another damnable PG-13 movie, which means there's no blood, no gore, and worst of all, no scares. In order to artificially generate fright, the filmmakers resort to their old standby, the jump scare. I counted at least four of them during the movie, and sat rock-still through them all. 

When are directors gonna learn that jump scares just don't work, and aren't a substitute for actual terror?

 Welp, Sony's interminable losing streak continues! I give my former employers a lot of crap on this site, but it's well and truly deserved. Their films are consistently terrible, and I honestly don't know how their studio arm manages to stay in business.

Don't believe me? Here's just a sampling of their gawd-awful output from the past few years:

The Monuments Men • Robocop (2014)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 • 22 Jump Street • Think Like A Man Too
Sex Tape • Fury • The Interview • Chappie • Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
Aloha • Pixels • Ricki and the Flash Hotel Transylvania 2 • 
The Walk • Goosebumps • Freaks of Nature • Spectre
The Night Before • The 5th Wave • The Brothers Grimsby
Money Monster • Angry Birds • The Shallows • Ghostbusters 2016
Sausage Party • The Magnificent Seven • Inferno • Passengers
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter • Underworld: Blood Wars
Life • Smurfs: The Lost Village • Rough Night • The Emoji Movie
The Dark Tower • All Saints • Fallen • Flatliners • Demon Hole
Roman J. Israel, Esq • The Star • Peter Rabbit • Paul, Apostle Of Christ

To be fair, they've accidentally released a couple of good to decent films like Baby DriverJumanji: Welcome To The Jungle and Blade Runner 2049, but they're very few and vastly far between.

This image is by far the scariest thing you'll see onscreen during Slender Man!

• It's obvious from the very first frame of Slender Man that there's something seriously wrong with this movie. The storyline is vague and unfocused, subplots are set up and never resolved and there's no clear protagonist. Worst of all, characters are introduced and then disappear from the film with no absolutely no explanation. 

And to top it all off, the movie doesn't end so much as it just stops. I cannot emphasize this enough— this movie doesn't have an ending. It's like they just ran out of film and decided not to buy any more and called it quits right then and there.

Once glance at the trailer reveals that great swathes of the movie are missing in action. Apparently Sony was so afraid of upsetting anyone involved in the real world Slender Man case that they cut out anything even remotely scary or provocative from the film.

Slender Man isn't a movie— it's a work print. Sony should be ashamed for releasing HALF a film, and issue refunds to everyone who paid to see the goddamned thing.

Here are just a few of the many elements missing from the theatrical version of Slender Man:

This character, and whatever the hell she's scrawling on the glass, are NOT in the actual movie. At one point in the film, Wren communicates via message board with a girl in a mental institution (who apparently still has access to the internet). She's the one who tells Wren how to summon Slender Man and get Katie back. 

This girl may or may not be that mystery character. If so, I'm betting they cut her out of the film because she's in an institution, just like the real-life girls who tried to murder their friend.

There's also a violent scene involving Chloe that was completely erased from the final film. In it, she's sitting in biology class dissecting a snail or something, when she's suddenly compelled (by Slender Man, no doubt) to raise a scalpel to her face. She stares at it in great distress, and then savagely jams it into her eyeball, spraying her classmates with blood & vitreous goo.

I'm betting she didn't actually stab herself and this was just an hallucination, as Slender Man slowly drives her insane. Not really sure why they'd cut out this scene, since the gore's implied rather than shown

Then there's this shot, in which a teen boy sort of leans over and falls off a roof, presumably to his death. This has to be Hallie's boyfriend Todd, since he's one of only two males with speaking roles in the entire film (Katie's dad being the other).

Remember how for no good reason, Hallie started begging Todd not to watch the Slender Man video? I'm betting in the original cut he watched it anyway, was driven mad and killed himself.

Of course in the theatrical version, he simply disappears from the movie and is never seen or spoken of again.

Lastly, the trailer ends with this extended scene, in which a nondescript girl is eerily walking through a field. The police arrive and cautiously approach her. We then see a closeup of her bloodied face, as the camera slowly tilts down to her outstretched hands. She's obviously holding something, but whatever it is is so horrifying that we're not allowed to see it.

Again, need I point out that this character is nowhere to be seen in the final film. She kind of looks like the same girl who was scrawling on the window, so I guess it makes sense that they'd cut out this scene of her as well.

That's too bad, as this sequence is very atmospheric and genuinely creepy. In fact the entire two minute trailer is far scarier than the actual movie! Save yourself $8 and just watch the trailer a couple of times.

Slender Man is an incredibly derivative film, as it cribs elements from several much better movies. The most glaring example of this is the online video the girls watch to summon the titular character.

As mentioned in the plot description, this video consists of rapid cuts of deliberately unsettling images that look like they were lifted directly from Un Chien Andalou and The Ring

A helpful tip to any would-be directors out there— it's never a good idea to remind the audience of way BETTER films they could be watching.

• Credit where it's due: there are a few genuinely creepy and haunting images in Slender Man. Many of the girls' hallucinations have a surreal, dreamlike quality to them, and the brief glimpses of the titular character standing ominously in the woods are spooky and unsettling. 

There's also a great scene in which Slender Man sprouts giant spider legs and chases Hallie through the forest, which actually comes close to being scary.

It's just too bad that these scenes were in service of absolutely NOTHING.

• The only actor you'll likely recognize in Slender Man is Joey King. She's becoming quite the little B-movie Queen, as she's starred in such classics as Battle Los Angeles, Oz The Great And Powerful, The Conjuring, White House Down and Independence Day: Resurgence

She also starred in 2017's Wish Upon, which is actually a pretty good bad movie, and one of the best unintentional comedies I've seen in years. Somebody get this girl an agent transplant, stat!

• Apparently this movie takes place in a universe where no one owns a car. At no time are any of the main characters ever seen driving, as they walk everywhere they want to go.

It's also a world in which every single electronic device is made by Sony. Literally every single laptop, TV and phone is proudly emblazoned with the Sony logo or one of its subsidiaries. 

Seeing their logo once or twice is fine, as it actually adds a bit of realism to the movie. After all, I'd much rather see an actual Sony logo than one that says, "Horizon." But when you spot fifteen of them it becomes obtrusive and obnoxious. It's like a drinking game!

• All good horror movies set up a series of rules for their monsters and then do their best to stick to them. Vampires can't stand sunlight. Werewolves are allergic to silver. Zombies can only be stopped by a head shot. Freddie Krueger can only harm you in your dreams. And on and on.

Slender Man attempts to set up its own mythology as well, but of course it fails miserably. It's all very muddled and contradictory, and feels like they cribbed random elements from other films and haphazardly mashed them together, hoping it'd all somehow make sense.

They even use the same "The More You Think About Him The Stronger He Gets" trope from The Bye Bye Man! Folks, when you start stealing from a bottom of the barrel movie like that, then you know your film is in trouble.

Here're just a sampling of Slender Man's nonsensical mythology:

— The girls are warned to never look directly at Slender Man's face, or they'll either die or be driven mad. Seconds later, Chloe looks directly at him, immediately goes nuts and runs screaming into the woods.

Thing is, the other girls looked at him right after Chloe did, but nothing happens to them. So why not? Did they not look at him long enough or something? Do they need to stare intently at him for thirty seconds for his curse to work?

Plus, how the hell do you look at someone's face when they don't have one?

— The girls first summon Slender Man by watching an online video. Yet when Wren researches him, she finds out he and other "electromagnetic beings" like him have been taking people for centuries.

So how did people conjure him before the internet was invented? Watch a 16mm film? Tell spooky campfire stories? Read an illuminated manuscript?

— Slender Man's quite the dapper demonic presence, as he's dressed in a smartly tailored suit and tie. As Wren discovers, he's actually been around for years. So does his outfit change to correspond to current fashion trends? Did he wear a double breasted suit in the 1940s? A stovepipe hat in the 1800s? A waistcoat and leggings in Colonial times?

— Most importantly of all, what exactly does Slender Man do with his victims? At the end of the movie it looks like he causes Hallie to sort of turn into a tree. Is that what happened to Katie, and all his other victims as well?

That could actually be terrifying, as it'd mean every tree in a forest used to be a person! Of course the movie can't be bothered to actually tell us if that's what's happening, leaving the fate of the victims vague and unresolved.

• After Katie disappears, Hallie and the other girls decide to sneak into her house and search for clues. First they peer through the window and see Katie's Dad passed out on the couch in a drunken stupor. One of the girls mentions how he always leaves the back door unlocked, in case Katie would come home late.

One would think they'd simply sneak in the back while Dad was blissfully unconscious, right? Wrong. Wren actually knocks on the goddamned door and wakes him up! When he stumbles to the door, she distracts him while the other two nimrods sneak upstairs.

Why the hell did they wake him up? They could have been in and out and he'd never have known! Was this some lame attempt at artificially generating suspense, to keep the audience from dozing off?

• Even though one of Hallie's friends has disappeared and another driven insane or something, she decides it's the perfect time to go on a date with her crush Todd. Hey, she ain't getting any younger, so she's gotta move on and find herself a man, right?

Anyway, this date is chock full of inexplicable and hilarious moments. First of all, 
she WALKS to Todd's house and apologizes for being late, saying she had trouble finding his house in the dark. Um... I'm no expert on dating, but isn't it traditional for the guy to drive to the girl's house and pick her up? What kind of guy expects his date to walk to his house?

Once there, Hallie's surprised to learn that Todd's parents are out for the evening, leaving the two of them alone in the house. Wha...? Did she really think she was going to spend an evening wedged on the couch with Todd and his parents?

Lastly, Todd decides to put on some music to set the mood for their makeout session. Instead of playing a CD or streaming music from his phone like a teen from this century, he actually fires up his parents' record player and puts on a scratchy old album! What. The. Hell. This is what happens when you let a middle aged man write your teen horror movie.

• Pretty much every online review has already pointed this out, but it's still worth a mention: At one point Wren actually says that Slender Man is like a computer virus that gets inside your brain and infects it. So... he's just like a virus then. See, Wren, we had regular old organic viruses long before we had computer ones.

• In the past twenty years or so I've seen more terrible horror films than I can count. Amazingly, nearly all of them have one thing in common
 a scene in which the main character has to physically trudge to the library to research the monster that's plaguing them. Because that's totally a thing that teenagers do in the 21st Century, right?

Originally these "Library Scenes" would show characters lugging a large stack of books to a table, or staring at a small projector as they scrolled through tons of microfiche files.

Thanks to the internet, those forms of data storage are now obsolete. Today we all have a hand-held device that contains the contents of literally every library in the world! 

But for some strange reason, movies STILL insist on showing characters going to the library to do research! Why? Why can't they stay home and google Krampus, Bagul or Pazuzu on their laptop or phone?

It's like all these middle-aged screenwriters remember those research scenes from the movies of their youth, and feel compelled to include them in their films. To their credit, they seem aware that google's replaced microfiche, but they don't seem to understand that one no longer needs to trek to the library to look up a fact.

 This scene from the film perfectly captures the way audiences should react the instant they realize they're watching a Sony movie.

Slender Man is a terrible "horror" film with no scares, no characters and worst of all, no plot. It's an incomplete work print of a film, one that was obviously butchered in editing as Sony cut out everything even remotely frightening, so as not to offend anyone. Too bad they didn't cut out the ENTIRE movie while they were at it. It's not even a "good" bad movie, it's just plain bad. Save yourself some cash and watch the trailer instead, as it contains more scares than the actual film. I give it a well-deserved D.

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