“Beware the Slenderman” is a 2017 documentary which examines the real-life incident in which two girls attempted to murder one of their friends, to appease the Slender Man, a fictional creepy past monster who was created in 2009 as part of a photoshop contest on somethingawful.com. Using real-life footage of court proceedings, various YouTube videos, in particular footage from Marble Hornets and Tribe Twelve as well as interviews with the girls’ parents, friends and experts on memes, it attempts to chart how a fictional creation came to have such devastating real-life consequences.
Irene Taylor Brodsky’s documentary occasionally manages to be thought-provoking and insightful but, watching it, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a victimless crime. Payton Leutner, the actual victim who was stabbed 19 times but miraculously survived, is conspicuous by her absence and all but ignored by the documentary crew who seem more intent on delving into the weird origins of the Slenderman myth and allowing the families of the two girls who committed the crime to explain, excuse and rationalise the actions of their children.
It makes for an uncomfortable experience and, unfortunately, forces the documentary to confront its biggest flaw: it prematurity. As it was being filmed, the girls’ trial was still ongoing as they state wrangled with whether to try them as adults or juveniles. There’s some chilling interview footage of both girls, explaining their actions and motivations, never once showing a shred of remorse but the documentary just sort of stops at the point where the judge rules how they should be tried.
It’s a frustratingly incomplete telling of the story and notably avoids focussing on the real root cause of the problem: mental illness in adolescence in favour of a more esoteric, post-modern bogeyman. Although the sequences tracing the viral iconography of Slenderman and insights into his origin and spread across pop culture, infiltrating multiple internet communities are more intriguing but feel superficial, an afterthought to break up the understandably heartfelt but undeniably excusatory testimony from the would-be murderers’ families.
At nearly two hours, it’s far too long to deliver so little in terms of real insights or conclusions. In trying to vaguely point an accusatory finger at the corrupting influence of the internet on impressionable youth, it ends up wrapping itself in the salacious sensationalism of its ‘title character’, burying its head in the meme to avoid confronting the real problems which lead to the tragic incident.