According to some old strains of folklore, a vampire couldn’t come into your house unless he was invited.
And so it sometimes goes with supernatural evil, particularly in the movies: Playing with Ouija boards. Saying “Bloody Mary” (or “Candyman”) three times in the mirror. We don’t always lock the door to the horror outside. Sometimes, we welcome it in.
Which, frankly, seems like a terrible idea.
But teens are not always known for their great decision-making skills. So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that late one night when a handful of teen girls get together, they decide to visit the website for Slender Man—a towering, internet-based bogeyman without a face but with plenty of tentacles. And while the graphics on his homepage leave something to be desired, the website does feature a lot of videos: Slender Man stalking people, Slender Man grabbing people. Perhaps Slender Man giving makeup and cooking demonstrations if you dig in far enough.
It also includes a link to another video, too, one that if you watch it (partly with your eyes closed, for some reason) you just might call Slender Man. Not, like, on the phone, but call him to you.
Again: terrible idea.
But the girls watch (and don’t watch?) the video. Sure enough, Slender Man comes. He doesn’t come to all the girls all at once—not visually, anyway. One has nightmares. One gets a queasy stomach. But one of them, Katie, seems to have a stronger connection with the being. And during a field trip to a local graveyard (of course), she suddenly ups and … vanishes.
Local law enforcement is, naturally, in a tizzy. Can’t have teen girls just go missing, can we? They say to each other. (Not really.) And slowly, Katie’s friends begin to wonder whether that video had something to do with her disappearance.
Luckily, one of the girls (Wren) is texting someone who was in close communication with Katie before she disappeared and seems to have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Slender Man’s habits. The texter says that, really, the only thing the girls can do is to sacrifice something that’s really important to them—something they love. And if the sacrifice is deemed worthy … well, Slender Man just might give Katie back.
But to perform the sacrifice, they’ll have to call Slender Man again.
Because it went so well the last time.
The four friends at the center of the film—Katie, Wren, Chloe and Hallie—care for each other, and they’re willing to rip up cherished, irreplaceable photos (which, really, they could’ve just gotten copied in this day and age), as well as grandmother-knitted blankets, to get Katie back. We see a greater, if perhaps pointless, act of sacrifice at another juncture, too.
Also, Hallie has a little sister, Lizzie, whom she loves and wants to protect. If Slender Man had known love like that, perhaps he wouldn’t be so grabby and killy and stuff.
The film itself suggests that interest in Slender Man is, in itself, perhaps a computer virus, wherein the legend encourages “messed up people” to do “messed up things,” thus doing Slender Man’s work for him. (But this cautionary message, as nice as it might seem, undercuts itself, given that it comes in the midst of a whole movie about Slender Man.)
Despite Slender Man’s clearly supernatural nature, there’s not a lot of explicit religious content to be found here, other than simply setting the story’s stage.
When Slender Man is summoned, his appearance is preceded by the ringing of what sounds like really terrible church bells. We see several shots of churches in the background, too (one of which is fronted with a sign that says, “God is listening for your prayer”), and one of the girls (Wren) has, for some reason, a light-up Virgin Mary statue. (We also see the shadow of a cross on a wall in her house.) There are also some references to occult activity.
Katie (before she’s kidnapped, obviously) talks about how folks used to think that sneezing was how the body expelled demons—which is why Katie never sneezes. “I want to keep them all,” she says. “In my soul.” (Even before her kidnapping, it seems as though Katie could’ve used a little help.)
Hallie and a guy named Tom clearly have some mutual attraction—so much so that on their first official date (in which Tom invites Hallie to his house when his parents aren’t around), the two barely say a word to each other before they start making out on the couch. We see much kissing and touching; and while the make-out session doesn’t reach its almost inevitable conclusion (Slender Man hates make-out scenes, apparently), it was clearly heading that way before they were, um, interrupted. They kiss once elsewhere, too.
The four girls apparently look at a lot of porn when they’re together. We don’t see any of it, but we do hear them describe it. Elsewhere, we hear crass references to masturbation and the male anatomy. Slender Man, and the kidnappings surrounding him, are sometimes attributed to “perverts” who may or may not own vans.
Sometimes some skin is on display, too. (One woman, for instance, hangs out in a bathtub, apparently naked but with nothing critical shown, as a man combs her long, creepy hair.) We hear that one of the girls’ classmates is pregnant.
In a dream sequence, Hallie envisions that she’s pregnant herself. We see her exposed belly—
—right before black, sharp tentacles pierce her skin from the inside out and grow like demonic womb-vines!
That’s probably the most explicitly gross scene in the PG-13-rated Slender Man, which features little actual blood. But other scenes may trigger a cringe or two.
Black veins or webbing or something grows out of someone’s eyes and mouth. We see one of our characters essentially in a dismembered (but still living) state, with her various limbs scattered about. Someone seems to get sucked into and/or eaten by a tree. People’s faces distort, and one character temporarily loses hers entirely.
We hear that anyone who sees Slender Man will surely die, go insane or simply disappear. (If I don’t show up next week, you’ll know what happened.) As such, someone perches outside a second-story window and seems about to jump. Another is choked by Slender Man—only to look into a mirror and discover that she’s choking herself. Another unfortunate has several seizures, which doctors believe are panic attacks.
Students cut up eyeballs in biology class. (Audiences see one ocular organ up close while it’s being dissected.) Someone talks about an exploding kitten. Someone sports unexplained bruises on his forearm. Supernatural hands grasp and hold and stroke potential victims’ cheeks. Faces distort and sometimes seem to melt.
We hear one f-word (and one more mild stand-in for that profanity), along with about half a dozen s-words. Also uttered (but not by Slender Man, who apparently has an aversion to profanity, too): “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused twice, while Jesus’ name is abused once. Someone makes an obscene gesture.
Katie’s father drinks a lot. We see him passed out with a beer bottle in front of him. And when guests hear some mysterious shuffling in the house, Katie says it’s likely her dad fumbling around for another beer. When he later visits Hallie and Lizzie, he’s clearly drunk and confrontational. (We see some non-descript pill vials in his house, too.)
Hallie’s parents have wine in front of their kids during dinner. When they ask Hallie what she plans to do with her friends that evening, Hallie jokes that they’re going to “drink a lot of vodka and meet guys online.” We hear that Katie used to hide her cigarettes in her room.
The girls lie about some fairly inexplicable things, and the lies never help matters one little whit. One girl betrays another (albeit in an attempt, it would seem, to save their lives). We see someone retch into a sink, and another character admits that she vomited twice before heading to school. (Another girl jokes that she must be pregnant.)
Most of our best-known bogeymen are pretty geriatric. Frankenstein’s monster was stitched together by Mary Shelley nearly 200 years ago. Vampires and werewolves have been around for several centuries. The monsters under our collective beds have lived—at least in our imaginations—ever since we’ve had beds.
Slender Man, despite what his own legends say, is a mere elongated babe in the dark, dark woods—a creature of the information age created in 2009 by a guy named Eric Knudsen. Inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, survival horror videogames and a character known as the “Tall Man” from the schlocky 1979 horror film Phantasm, Slender Man was birthed not in book or movie or campfire tale, but in two blurry, doctored photos posted on the Something Awful internet forum. They depicted a frighteningly tall, surprisingly well-dressed, eerily tentacled creature lurking behind children.
That was it, really. No book deal, no publicity campaign. But like any good creature of nightmare, Slender Man took on a life of his own.
Soon, people were tacking details onto Slender Man’s quickly evolving mythos, unfurling where he lived (dark forests) and what he wanted (children). They forced his image into supposed ancient cave paintings and medeival woodcarvings. He became the subject of countless online stories, YouTube videos and even an online game or two.
But still, many people had never heard of the monster until 2014, when two 12-year-old girls from Wisconsin lured their best friend into the woods and stabbed her 19 times, reportedly an effort to attract and appease Slender Man—hoping, apparently, to live in his castle. (The victim miraculously survived.)
The father of one of the assailants believes the film is trying to mine a real-world tragedy for profit.
“It’s absurd they want to make a movie like this,” he said. “All we’re doing is extending the pain all three of the families have gone through.” A pedition was circulated to prevent the release of the film—a petition that obviously didn’t work, despite its 19,000 signatures.
If only it had.
Slender Man is just a bad movie, and bad in every possible way. It’s like a sandwich made of peanut butter, mustard and raw chicken, then soaked for an hour in Mountain Dew, grilled on high for 40 minutes and finally garnished with despair. There’s not a ton of content here by contemporary horror-movie standards, but enough to spoil it anyway. Horror movie fans won’t like it, because it’s not all that scary. Anyone who likes sensical storytelling won’t like it because … well, for obvious reasons.
Really, the entity that might best like Slender Man might be Slender Man himself. Not because it’s about him (he seems a modest chap), but because he has no eyes or ears. He alone could sit through the thing and not be bothered.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.