Beware the Slenderman
In this horrifyingly modern fairytale lurks an online Boogeyman and two 12-year-old girls who would kill for him. The entrance to the internet quickly leads to its darkest basement. How responsible are our children for what they find there?
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★★★½ review by KatieN on Letterboxd
A documentary about two young girls who brought their friend out to the woods and attempted to murder her so that they could appease Slenderman and go live happily-ever-after with him in the woods.
This is tough to rate, because it's an interesting story and they handled some aspects very well, but at the same time it's very flawed, so I think I'll just list the good and the bad.
The Good -
I remember reading about the stabbing in the news 3 years go and being shocked, but reading about the attack is nothing compared to actually seeing the two girls talk about the attack. It's both heartbreaking and fascinating, but mostly heartbreaking.
The thing that this documentary does best is showing how the two families of these girls handle the stress and aftermath of the attack. What's interesting is that the girls were only 12 years old at the time. Most of the true crime documentaries I've seen tend to deal with adults, and while we usually do see their loved ones being interviewed at some point, it's not the same as seeing a family going to visit their incarcerated middle school aged child. Both fathers, Morgan's father in particular, have some really good, emotional moments.
The Bad -
The documentary is much longer than it needed to be and the tone is all over the place.
The beginning starts off with a "scary" video (which I'm assuming they just found on YouTube somewhere) of Slenderman chasing a girl through the woods. Then we switch over to some news headlines and videos of the girls being questioned after their arrest. After awhile I completely forgot about that cheesy horror movie opening - until they started showing multiple YouTube videos of Slenderman and interviewing some guy from Know Your Memes about creepypastas. They also interview a girl who says she wants to go live with Slenderman and be like him, but they completely skip over that and never go back to her. This entire segment goes on for quite awhile and it feels extremely disjointed from the rest of the doc.
The other big issue here is that we don't hear much about the victim. She is basically ignored until the court scenes at the end. This could have been due to legal reasons, maybe the victim and her family just wanted to be left alone(who could blame them!). It does feel like a huge piece is missing without her though.
Overall it's an interesting story and it's worth watching, but it is long and it does have it's flaws.
SPOILER rant ---
I know that in documentaries people generally pretend not to have certain information in the beginning until it's revealed later on, but Morgan's mother annoyed me a bit. In the beginning she keeps saying things like "There were no signs." "Why would something like this happen?" "Who could have known?" "She wasn't upset about Bambi's mother dying, but we didn't think anything of it" ... but towards the end, once we learn that Morgan's father suffers from schizophrenia, the mother is suddenly like "oh well it does makes sense, she was predisposed to schizophrenia. We knew there was a chance one of the kids would get it". Really, lady? But you were so surprised and confused 30 minutes ago! I'm still sympathetic to these people, but Jesus.
★★★½ review by Gazelle Garcia on Letterboxd
The most enthralling documentaries are the ones we can identify with. Now, I hope anyone reading this isn't prone to killing in the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or even the beloved Companion Cube (who died for our sins). Without a doubt, we are the viral generation. I witnessed and participated in the budding Slenderman legend, just as some may have grown up listening to Marilyn Manson and idolizing The Joker. And while we moved past those fixations like the fads their intended to be this is the true story of two young girls who were willing to kill their best friend because of their obsession with an Internet sensation.
I was very familiar with Slenderman during the run of Marble Hornets on YouTube around 2009, but had grown beyond it before the popular PC game was created. So how fascinating it was, and horrifying, to see the fictional creature's name in headlines years later attached to the stabbing of a child. This documentary delivers a well balanced look at the tragedy from the perspective of the parents who never suspected that this Jack Skellington looking character decorating their 12-year-old's room was worth any worry. This film goes back and forth between the court hearings, the lives of the families, and the history of the Creepypasta legend. With sources ranging from psychologists to majors of viral folklore to the creator of KnowYourMeme, Beware the Slenderman provides an interesting look into the dangerous impact of modern culture sensations.
★★★★½ review by Jason Alley on Letterboxd
A deeply troubling, disturbing, and unbearably sad documentary about the two 12-year-old girls who attempted to murder another little girl in the Wisconsin woods in 2014, as an offering to Slenderman. For those who don't know, Slenderman is an internet-born modern-day boogeyman who began life as a Photoshop gag, popping up eerily in the backgrounds of photos, and through the suggestive strength of the internet and the imaginations of children, morphed into something very "real."
This HBO documentary explores both the murder case and the Slenderman phenomenon itself, in detail. It's tough to watch at times, but fascinating and very worthwhile.
★★★★ review by Russell Holley on Letterboxd
The time spent with the dismayed parents of the girls involved makes this well-rounded combination of a true-crime story and an analysis of an internet folktale, a real riveting watch.
★★★½ review by C.G. Runyon on Letterboxd
I put this on because I, too, was a teenager on the internet with a fascination with Slenderman and that entire mythos.
Turns out, this doc kinda sucks as an examination of the effect of internet myths and memes, featuring interviews with lame adults attempting to "explain" the Slenderman's strange power in a Vox-splainer kind of style and absolutely none of them properly convey what makes it a resonant image (apart from the thuddingly obvious). Just lame adults who don't get what the kids are into these days--and yes, one of them is Richard Dawkins (ugh).
Thankfully, that's not the documentary's primary interest. When it focuses on the families of each of the girls who committed the stabbing, it's harrowing and sad and even heartbreaking. Brodsky knows exactly how to lens the minutiae of everyday life as these parents cope with the insurmountable trauma of knowing what their child was capable of. The effects of internet memes on impressionable young minds are obvious, but the damage it can inflict on ordinary people has rarely been so devastatingly documented.
The final few shots of this are genuinely pretty haunting.
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