Monday, March 13, 2017

A Slender Thread

HBO has premiered a new documentary film in the last few weeks: Beware the Slenderman. It's about the creepy Slenderman character of urban legend, and specifically about two pre-teen girls who attempted to murder their friend in an effort to appease him.

This documentary held tantalizing potential for me. Myths and how they grow, moody tension, true crime, a dive into a damaged psyche -- there was lots to mine here that could be quite... well, not "entertaining," to be sure, but "captivating." Unfortunately, the documentary fell short in almost every area.

Initially, Beware the Slenderman is most concerned with the horror of this particular incident. It's a slow burn chronicle of how two young girls set up their friend for sacrificial slaughter, interwoven with interviews of family members utterly at a loss to explain how this all could happen. It's the most effective section of the movie, as any preconceived notions you might have about the attack confront the accounts of the people it happened to.

The middle section of the film tries to expand on the Slenderman myth itself -- how it began and what it represents. While the former question is answered quite specifically, the film suggests that the latter question is unknowable. The "expertise" of the people interviewed seems shaky, and the analysis amounts to an unsatisfying and vague "Slenderman means different things to different people." In arguing that Slenderman is a sort of Rorschach test, the film ultimately renders this entire middle section as a superfluous waste of screen time.

The last chunk of the film turns to mental illness as the real reason behind the attack, and seeks to help the audience better understand the often misunderstood condition of schizophrenia. But not nearly enough time is devoted to this angle for a thoughtful or enlightening examination, and it all feels like an afterthought following 90 minutes of horror and ghost stories. If indeed mental health was the thesis of the film, it should have been a bigger and more consistent part of it.

Perhaps I'm the ghoul, seeking diversion in such a terrible real life tale. In any case, Beware the Slenderman was too scattershot an effort to provide it. I grade it a C-.

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