Beware the Slenderman (2017) Review

Beware the Slenderman is a 2017 documentary about two young girls who stabbed their best friend, inspired by a fictional internet horror character.

There isn’t a culture in history that hasn’t had its share of monsters embedded in its lore. Monster and creatures have been spun to urge children to better behave and remain moral and throughout time have evolved into an entertainment genre that has grip across all platforms, including the internet where it has most especially spread. Beware the Slenderman is a compelling documentary that examines one such creation, a figure of profound reach that has now become the center of an investigation, and while it feels a little overstuffed, it provides a solid example of the power of the internet as influence.

If by some chance you aren’t familiar with the the phenomenon that is Slenderman, the film will certainly solve that problem, as it goes to great lengths to describe its origins and remarkable growth from its 2009 photo contest entry to one of the most popular characters in the genre, a figure in stories, memes, fan films, and video games. A man with no face, wearing a dark suit, Slenderman is said to have tentacles on its back and both lures and hunts children. Naturally, many have exploited the creation, and even more have found the character easy to be fearful of, its ambiguous features one that fits a number of nightmare possibilities.

Enter two young girls, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, who became obsessed with Slenderman on horror forums and YouTube videos, and came to believe that, as the lore proposes, he would kill their families unless they became “proxies” or servants in his name. That means a murder of their own, with their reward being entry into Slenderman’s grand mansion in the Nicolet National Forest. So on May 31, 2014, the girls took their best friend, Payton “Bella” Leutner into the woods and stabbed her nineteen times and left her for dead. Though she was able to make her way out and police arrested both girls, Morgan’s response to why they committed such a horrific act was more than disturbing, it was just the start of a truly chilling story.

Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky, Beware of the Slenderman is certainly an engrossing film, one that digs incredibly deep into the Slenderman culture, exposing how the character and the story had developed and spawned its mythology. Doing so doesn’t necessarily make it easier to explain why these two girls did what they did, but does reveal the ease at which younger minds can explore and become immersed in themes maybe they aren’t quite ready for. Brodsky is careful not to blame the internet, only to show its capacity for incitement.

Beware the Slenderman
Beware the Slenderman, 2017 © Vermilion Films

What Brodsky’s more interested in is the girls themselves, who, through family video clips and interviews with their parents, are shown to be two energetic and imaginative children with little hint of their coming violence. And yet, the further we go, the more issues arise and the disparities and connections between them become all the more troubling to watch. Brodsky never directly interviews the girls, relying on actual police interrogation video and courtroom proceedings, but what we see are two mostly emotionless girl, whose actions seem unmoving to them. The constant question lingering is, how did they come to this?

Answers are not easy to find, and Brodsky explores many dark avenues in hopes of shedding some light into why the stabbing took place. She brings together a panel of cultural experts (including famed evolutionary biologist Richard Hawkins) to dissect what we know and offer opinions and theories that further enlighten the natural, though exponentially fast, evolution of Slenderman and of others. But no matter what is presented, the often distressing reality of who Geyser and Weir are makes it an unsettling experience.

Beware of the Slenderman is a dense film that even at two hours only lead to more questions, and a feeling that a more narrow focus might have served the narrative better, but there’s no denying the almost insatiable curiosity about the subject that makes it difficult to look away. It’s hard to come away without mixed feelings, a sense that there is darkness in places many of us don’t even know exists, and yet a need to know it better.

Beware the Slenderman (2017) Review

Movie description: Beware the Slenderman is a 2017 documentary about two young girls involved in a stabbing inspired by a fictional internet character.

Director(s): Irene Taylor Brodsky

Genre: Documentary

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One Response

  1. Melanie Anstett January 28, 2017