I still can’t believe that Ken Marino released a dog movie this week and I didn’t snatch up that assignment when I had the chance. “I’ll take Slender Man,” I said. Give me the PG-13 horror movie. Let me review the one about the meme that crawls out of the internet and turns into a spider or something and forces people to become trees. Why would I want to watch the movie with the cute dogs? Why should I want anything good to happen to me ever? The known universe, godless and cruel to the point of absurdity, could never allow for such a thing. I need to stop expecting that my life, even for 90 minutes, could be anything close to peaceful or enjoyable. It’s like I learned nothing from all those Ligotti books.
Slender Man has no main character, its antagonist has no real motivation or even any real reason for being, and its central plot motivator (the disappearance of a high school senior after her viewing of a video called Summon Him) is forgotten about by the time the narrative has spun so far off the deep end that the characters have to keep reminding each other and themselves what the hell is supposed to be going on. The Slender Man character himself is a badly rendered monstrosity, resembling an animatic for a Men in Black-themed local cable commercial for an insurance company.
To their credit, and my horror, the filmmakers decided to double down on their creation and hold him onscreen for lingering, uncomfortably long shots. The team behind Slender Man is nothing if not confident in its unorganized vision, assaulting the audience with imagery that bounces between mid-90s Mark Romanek music video and, as a friend called, “illuminati mayhem.” The tentacles, the pentagrams, the creaky gated doors in the middle of the woods and the all-seeing eyes are all just sort of there, contributing nothing to the story or the movie other than to, I think, look cool to moviegoers who have seen all that a thousand times before.
Joey King, continuing her career of turning in serviceable performances in movies nobody sees, heads the cast of mostly unknowns. The director, Sylvain White, seems to not know what to do with his actors at all, hiding them in underlit and clumsily photographed setups while ignoring the nonexistent chemistry between his leads. The entire project is just an excuse to try out some outdated, ugly effects. The only truly effective sequence, itself lifted straight out of Lost Highway, comes and goes so quickly that it barely registers.
As for the actual story, it involves a creepy internet video, kids going to the library to research a meme (huh?) and some kind of ritual occult nonsense that is never explained or even really expounded upon at all for more than a single scene — a single line, in fact. And, yeah, it’s got that Slender Man guy. He abducts teenagers and sucks them into some kind of tree dimension. Go see it if you’re not into Spike Lee, Crystal Moselle or Giant Shark, all of whom also have new movies opening this week. Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, sequences of terror, thematic elements and language including some crude sexual references. Now playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.