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The recently released "Slender Man" film courted controversy immediately upon its announcement — although the film was set to explore the mythos behind the eponymous urban legend, the family of a victim of a stabbing linked to the fictional monster were horrified by what they viewed as the tasteless exploitation of a tragedy, leading to local boycotts of the film. Garnering terrible reviews and poor box office results following a suspiciously incomplete studio edit, the "Slender Man" film actually has quite little to do with the hideous true crime it is inexorably connected to.
Slender Man is a nickname given to a fictional cryptid invented and popularized on message boards like the Something Awful forums in 2009. Photoshopped into the background of haunting and mysterious images, the tall, faceless creature (often appearing in a suit and tie) became the subject of considerable amounts of fan fiction and art, spawning countless apocryphal legends. YouTubers began filming videos starring the monster, speculating about his extra-dimensional origins and supernatural abilities, and creating entire alternate reality games featuring the spooky being.
In 2014, two 12-year-olds named Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser lured their friend Payton Leutner into the woods of Waukesha, Wisconsin and stabbed her 19 times, claiming they were offering the girl to Slender Man as a sacrifice to prevent him from harming others. Leutner survived the attack and Weier and Geyser took plea deals and were confined to mental institutions.
The "Slender Man" movie opens on two teenage girls confessing their undying devotion for each other, making slightly morbid jokes about their shared love. Whether or not this scene is a winking red herring alluding to the real-life crime or coincidental to the larger story of the film is ambiguous. Either way, the film winds up following four (not two) teen girls who discover the semi-Lovecraftian Slender Man myths and attempt to summon him as part of a dare. After invoking the monster through a surreal viral video (a la "The Ring") the Slender Man tracks down each girl one by one, robbing them of their sanity and then their lives.
"Slender Man" does draw from the same internet lore that inspired Weier and Geyser's crime: the girls in reality and the girls in the film believed the Slender Man to be a child-kidnapping ethereal phantom whose nefarious proximity distorts reality itself and causes his victims to lose their minds. The dark woods surrounding the suburban town of the film are a central motif of the story, in which one of the girls does indeed attempt to offer a human sacrifice to the monster to quell his dogged pursuit. However, a stabbing incident analogous to that of Weier and Geyser is nowhere to be found in the movie's 90-minute run.
In the 2016 HBO documentary, "Beware the Slenderman," which explored the Weier and Geyser crime from sociological, political, and existential perspectives, philosopher Richard Dawkins explained the spread of the Slender Man fable.
“Genetic viruses spread from body to body,” Dawkins says. “And so a meme that has great spreadability deserves to be called a virus of the mind."
The girls of "Slender Man" similarly describe themselves as "infected" by a "virus" after watching the haunted video — almost directly referring to Dawkins' theories about the stabbing incident. The extent to which the audience is supposed to understand this as a metaphorical, supernatural, or literal "infection" remains unclear.
According to MovieGoer.com, the "Slender Man" film was heavily edited to reflect concerns about its thematic darkness — the trailer for the film even shows brief shots of several deleted sequences. Because the film is so obviously incomplete, the "Slender Man" movie could either be considered a supernatural thriller or an artistic exploration of girlhood anxieties — or somehow both. That is to say: "Slender Man" doesn't exactly depict the monster as real or fake: it's unclear if the Slender Man is a metaphor for teenage hysteria or an actual otherwordly entity. Delving further into surrealism, the film's conclusion about the creature's existence remains at best ambiguous or at worst totally incoherent.
Considering the poor performance of "Slender Man," it seems unlikely that the topics explored in the film will be expanded upon any further in a follow up any time soon. Without the deleted footage of the film, it's hard to tell how much the movie was in fact inspired by the crime or if the only thing the real-life events and the film really shared was the internet legend itself.
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