Basing an entire horror movie around an internet creepypasta sensation, which inspired an actual attempted murder, is not an inherently bad idea for a film. In fact, it could have turned out okay. Sadly, Slender Man somehow turned a not-terrible idea into an actually terrible movie.
The plot of Slender Man borrows heavily from horror’s long history. From Candyman to The Ring, Slender Man avoids any potential for originality and instead mashes together horror tropes in a collage of unsavory images and plot devices.
A quartet of teenage girls hear that their male counterparts are hanging out that Friday night, trying to conjure Slender Man. Who is Slender Man, you ask? Slender Man will never quite answer that. He’s a tall, slender, faceless, haunting character who appears when summoned and snatches kids… or not. He might live in the woods, or not. And we’re never quite sure where he takes these kids, or how he chooses which kids to take, or not. The way to conjure Slender Man is to watch an online video and follow the incredibly simple and basic instructions. However, the punishment for not following these instructions is Slender Man appearing. Do you see the loopholes here?
All of the teenage characters in the movie are far too simple to carry Slender Man. Though it tries hard to gain sympathy through alcoholic fathers and angelic little sisters, we’re never given the chance to know these characters enough to care whether they survive or not. Also, as a reminder, Slender Man’s appearance is no guarantee of disappearance, and we don’t know where the snatched kids are taken. This means that with every attack on a high schooler, we’re left wondering exactly how much we should care.
Despite the glaring character and plot issues, the movie has some sufficiently scary visuals. The tall, thin character’s suit is out of place in the woods where he lurks, and from afar he looks like a tree until he starts to attack. He’s also shown many times with an extra set of tentacles and arms that come from his back in a surprise attack. All of these as standalone designs are effective for scares. That success is owed to the creepypasta history of the character, and not necessarily the film itself.
The problem with the movie’s visual scares (and this is a big one) is that the film itself looks too dark. It makes sense for Slender Man himself hiding in the dark of night, but nearly everything else is also extremely dark. The teenagers are shown in shadows, even when they’re outside. Horror certainly lives in the darker corners of our mind, but when it’s on screen I prefer being able to see it.
Slender Man suffers from a lack of viable material. Its plot is illogical, its characters empty, and its visuals too damn dark. Only the film’s creepy creature design saves it from being a complete miss.