I just saw the film “Slender Man,” originally released in 2018, based on the “creepypasta internet meme” created by “Something Awful” forums user Eric Knudsen in 2009. It features a tall, thin, faceless dude who mostly exists in the shadows of the woods and abducts children, in this case, high school girls.
The actual creation of the character as a computer meme makes this an interesting legend before it is put to film, and director Sylvain White does a good job in the film introducing the victims to the beast through a rumor and a website. There is a bit of the “Bloody Mary” countdown added in for spice, in the form of three gongs of a bell, and the theme that the antagonist is more a virus in one’s head, like computer malware slowly taking over the files, is extremely well played.
There were many things I liked about this movie, especially coming into it with only the mildest of expectations. The acting was adequate. That is huge, since these types of films usually feature poor scene to scene writing and performance, almost as if to give contrast and counterpoint to the raucous scare moments. Here, the female protagonists did a pretty good job being depressed, scared, and going “scream-o” when the moment was right.
There are some excellent scare moments to be sure. The best writing and camera effect combo, occurs when The Slender Man makes a video-call to one of the girls on her cell in her room in her house, showing what his phone is filming, which is an approach to her house. There is a great shot through which the girl is positioned at her upstairs window facing out, and sees herself being filmed on her phone right before her. Then, she looks out into the backyard where he would have to be located, and sees no one.
A wonderful game of smoke and mirrors, but in fact, the best part of this film exposes the worst part of this film. When we do finally get a good look at The Slender Man, he is an obvious computer generated effect that is not very scary. He’s a tall dude in a suit with a blank face and long fingers that look like tree roots. Ohh. I’d better go hide….
Somehow, Halloween (the original in 1978) is one of the few slashers that successfully hid the monster, then fully exposed him, never lessening the fear factor. Tons of films in the late 80’s and early 90’s “exposed” the ghost and failed miserably, depending on a computer generated effect to be our “wow” moment, only letting us off the hook. “The Blair Witch Project” was the ultimately successful argument against fancy effects, fancy filming, and showing the monster, and it accomplished this bold protest by scaring the living shit out of us with noises and poor home movie quality, making everything look like a real snuff film, NEVER finally showing the witch. Not that all movies from there on had to be like this or utilize the “Paranormal Activity” template (home video adding a special effect or two) to attain notoriety, but it did prove the weakness of the “payoff” in ghost films, and many of the other forms of horror.
The monster is scarier when we barely see him or don’t see him (or her) at all. For me, this is more than a problem for climaxes. It is also an issue in the scenes that do work, because they themselves become boring as hell. How many times can we hear something…turn sharply, see nothing, and still buy into the charade? I know. An hour and thirty-three minutes, as most horror ghost and fiend movies give us. Still, I would ask…how fucking successful are you as a genre? The best horror movies have some suspense of hiding the monster and also glorious exposures, those that don’t come off like a cheap effect, made by a dude who just came from the basement, smoking weed, and playing “Call of Duty” all day.
Michael Myers was scary and we saw him in full view as a child. We see him in full view in many shots in the film, especially at the end, when he is…God forbid…unmasked. Freddy Krueger is shown to us from the beginning, almost like a cartoon, but people love to be terrified by him. Hannibal Lecter is shown to us in full view, a little old man who scares the piss out of us simply saying, “Good morning,” and while I am not a fan of little things (“Leprechaun” ain’t fucking scary, bro), Chucky frightened one of my students so much a number of years ago, that when fellow students brought dolls to school, she hid in the bathroom and cried.
I believe my point is that the formula has to change. The idea that we “hide the monster,” is not limited to horror, if we go metaphorical. In romance, the best sex scene is often “hidden” until 2/3 of the way through, leading to a break up, and at the climax, a sweaty round of red-hot make-up sex. In mystery, the who-done-er shouldn’t be exposed until the end, and in the “Oh, she’s SO brave” films, the big test should be held off to similar later positions in the dramatic arc, where her buried demons meet her courage, as translated through a current, relevant conflict (an example of a grotesque failure here, would be “Wild,” where we are meant to believe this past drug addict will rectify her weaknesses and the death of her mother by hiking 2650 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. Then, somehow, we are supposed to fucking cheer her when she gets tired and takes a break in Ashland Oregon, showering, putting on makeup, seeing a tribute concert for Jerry Garcia (barf), getting laid, and sleeping in a comfortable bed. For me, this was the worst film of the decade, unless the monster the film makers were hiding, was that this tramp was worthless and weak all along, and the underlying message was that there has been nothing to cheer for after all (which would have been better if intentional, but the attempted manipulation was blatantly clear).
ANYWAY, I believe the point is that formulas need to be broken. I love hiding the monster. I appreciate a noise, a character spinning around, and nothing being there. But not fifty times, with the big reveal being something as disappointing as the side of a cereal box.
Why don’t we make our antagonists more interesting to begin with? Maybe if they were more than gaunt flesh-skeletons with black-hollowed eyes and deep dark leers, they’d frighten us more, and the genre would gain a bit of respect.