If you hear a story so many times, might you begin to believe it? Then, if you believe it, might you then be prone to doing something in the name of it? Before you answer “no” think about how many children you have told about Santa Claus…or how much money The Tooth Fairy left under your pillow as a child.
Now imagine Santa and The Tooth Fairy are monsters…but they’re your monster.
In 2014, two 12-year-old girls named Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier lured another girl they were friends with into the woods, stabbed her multiple times and left her for dead. After the victim was found by a cyclist and rushed to hospital (where she was brought back to health after emergency surgery), the assailants were soon picked up walking by the side of the Interstate with the stabbing weapon in their bag.
Why did they stab their friend? They say The Slenderman told them to do it.
Yeah, I was confused too.
The Slenderman is an urban myth that has grown exponentially over the last ten years or so. He’s a tall, skinny boogieman, a babadook, a monster in the closet. He has no face, doesn’t speak, is between six and sixteen feet tall, and can have tentacles for arms. He has inspired games, artwork, stories, videos, and an entire generation that has been affected by him. Some, it would seem, in harsher ways than others.
Watching this case unfold and growing to understand the history of The Slenderman, we’re left with the age-old question “what were they thinking?”. There’s the old singsong joke about “If it’s on the internet it must be true”, but we forget sometimes that such logic is actually held onto by some. What’s more, we forget that there will always be a totem to cling to as “the only one who understands me”…and that totem can be truly dark sometimes.
This film seems to be trying to find the right blend of three narrative threads; the Slenderman myth, the effect of online culture on the next generation, and the specific case of Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier. Each idea could merit a doc of their own, and it doesn’t feel as though this feature entirely finds the balance between the three. That’s not to suggest this documentary is bad – far from it – just that it struggles to find its centre.
At the end of the day, we’re reminded that our own minds can be a dark and frightening place sometimes. It’s something inside of us that is prone to fragility and likewise open to suggestion. One could ask how anyone in the world would believe in urban legends like The Slenderman, but one could just as easily ask what how anyone in the world would harm a perfect stranger…let alone their friend.
The Slenderman is just a story, and just like so many stories, his can frighten some while inspiring and comforting others. The conversation shouldn’t be about him; it needs to be about us.
BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN plays at Hot Docs 2016 tonight, Thurssday, May 5th, 9:15pm at The Lightbox. It then plays The Lightbox once more on Saturday May 7th – 12:45pm