Reviewed by: Harry H.
The notion of turning popular video games into films has yielded a mixed bag of results over the years. There are some brilliant examples, such as Silent Hill, Resident Evil and Tron. But these are overshadowed by the sheer number of not-so-brilliant offerings; Doom, Hitman, Prince of Persia, and the sequels to all three of the aforementioned films.
So now we have Slender Man; a horror game character and real-life urban legend. If you’ve never heard of him, a quick YouTube search will throw up an array of conspiracy theory videos and young adults and teens playing through a virtual nocturnal forest, pursued by the faceless, black-suited ‘Slender Man’. He’s a fantastic monster and has the potential to blow us away on the big screen.
How does he do then? ‘Slender Man’ could already be considered a cult phenomenon without a film, so is he a ‘Pinhead’, or a ‘Pyramid-Head’?
Well, don’t go in expecting a masterpiece, because there are several opportunities to down-mark; such as the script. It’s just bad. It’s uninspired, awkward at times and gives very little opportunity for the actors to shine. Added to the fact that none of the characters are very likable and mix in the stereotypical horror film setting of an American high school, it’s like all the worst parts of a ‘Final Destination’ film mixed into one messy cake.
Bluntly, as a result, the film’s introduction sucks. With the first 20 minutes out of the way though, Slender Man starts to redeem itself.
The sound design and cinematography are magnificent. Your attention is always being diverted somewhere else, be it footsteps in the leaves moving from the back of one ear to the other, a car door outside or the three eerie bell chimes to warn us that danger is just around the corner. It’s like an extra dimension has been added; I had to look behind me at times to check there wasn’t someone there. Whoever was working on the 360 degree binaural sound design deserves a biscuit – I’d love to watch this film again with a decent pair of headphones.
Ignoring the computer generated effects, because the few that are there are very unconvincing; there are a few stand out scenes of interesting cinematography, particularly toward the third act.
At times we’re teased with an unnerving psychological twist; is Slender Man real or is it all in our heads? This is emphasised with various hallucination and dream sequences containing very heavy surrealism and Doctor Strange-esqe visuals. Just wait for the library scene – it’s probably the most memorable moment in the film and certainly sent a shiver down my spine.
There is a definite emphasis on the woods being something to feared, but there are a few moments which could have been copied and pasted straight from the American version of The Ring; what-with a spooky old video of a creepy place and a scary monster that pursues who-ever watches. Hrrm, very familiar.
We’re lacking significantly in story, kicking off with a group of high schoolers on a sleepover who decide to watch an online Slender Man creepypasta clip out of pure curiosity. Soon after, one of them begins behaving strangely and disappears. The first act has underlying themes of depression and domestic abuse which seem to lead nowhere. By halfway through the film, these themes seemed to have lost any sort of influence on character development and enough of the main characters have been ‘picked off’ by the Slender Man that there are no real stakes for the finale. Add this to the fact that the Slender Man has nearly as little screen-time than there is alcohol in water.
I get the sense that the writers wanted to take a leaf out Jaws’ book, building up the tension and revealing their monster halfway through. The beast causes havoc from the start, but only gives us visual teases until the halfway point, where we have a fantastic overhead view of the monster in its full horror, hunting its human prey in the shallow waters. From then on, when we get the monster, we get it all.
Slender Man follows a similar strategy; we’re teased in the first half with the bell chime, the odd shadow and online sighting videos. We first see him in full halfway through, as he ‘gets’ one of our main characters. But from then on – we don’t get all of him all the time. He continues to make brief appearances until the final scene, where we only actually see his full form for a few seconds.
I can’t help wondering if a ‘Slender Man’ film released any later than 2015 was always doomed to fail, because, as with any internet phenomenon, Slender Man came, went and died. There’s an element of distaste to the concept, as in 2014, the ‘Slender Man’ mythos resulted in the real-life stabbing of a 12 year-old girl. The girl miraculously survived an apparent 19 stab wounds, but the two offenders claimed they wanted to ‘appease Slender Man’. With such controversy under its name to begin with, is it right to make a film about teenagers performing similar acts of appeasement for our entertainment?
Slender Man is neither Pinhead nor Pyramid-head. Despite its flaws, I don’t see the justification in ratings as low as 7% from Rotten Tomatoes or 3/10 from IMDb, because there are a handful of scenes and set pieces that I thought genuinely worked; like the threat in the library, the mysterious video call and the surrealism on the hospital ward. There are moments of tension, intrigue and top notch cinematography that show Slender Man could have had potential.
In all, it is a disappointing end result, and is probably a film that shouldn’t have been made in the first place. But, if approached without exponentially high expectations, it’s quite entertaining and has a few memorable scenes that are creepy enough to leave an impression.
Verdict: Props to the production team; but they couldn’t save us from the script