Beware the Slenderman written and directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky (HBO Documentary Films, Vermilion Films, TV-14, 114 min)
Starring Morgan Geyser, Anissa Weier, Angie Geyser, and Bill Weier.
It Happened on Today
For a season, my family’s morning routine included the headlines from the Today show. I recognize this program is about as middle-middle one can find in the mainstream and it certainly wasn’t consumed in a hard-hitting manner. Instead, the 7 a.m. headlines offered a general barometer about the events of the world before we all commenced our daily activities.
Most days, these headlines go in one ear and out the other. Someone shot someone else. This politician messed up. Weather gonna weather.
Yet when I rethink that Today era of our morning routine, the odd and concerning attempted murder of a teenage girl in Wisconsin splatters the front of my cerebral cortex.
A Headline Stranger than Fiction
For anyone with a pulse on current events over the last year, you’ll likely remember the headlines. 2 teenage girls hike into the woods with a friend and then stab her repeatedly. Oddly, the victim represents a close friend of these young women. Where most crimes transpire within an antagonistic context, this one occurs as the culmination of a slumber party and birthday celebration.
How in the name of all things good and holy would 2 teenagers turn on a friend like that? As the creepy images grace the screen of the Today show, the answer lies in a modern urban legend. The girls, you see, committed the heinous act for Slenderman—a spooky, tall, and faceless character popularized in horror forums of the Internet.
On the Nature of Slenderman
The girls believe in Slenderman’s origin story and the mythos around gaining access to his lovingkindness. In other words, the girls truly believed that murder was necessary to enter relationship with Slenderman. Upon stabbing their friend, the began a trek toward the supposed forest where Slenderman’s mansion resides.
This absurd and frightening story represents the backdrop for the docudrama, Beware the Slenderman. In the film, the documentarians highlight the fractious reality of these circumstances on the families of these two girls.
With footage from the detective interviews and courtroom footage, the viewers begin to piece together the fragile state of these irks and how such a terrible event might come to exist.
All from a Meme
As a parent, the sources and influences of this event represent the most compelling element of the documentary. Ultimately, the film highlights the exponential story multiplier the internet creates for memes and counter-beliefs to the dominant culture. With our immense ability to connect intimately with people worldwide, new phenomena can imprint and spread quickly. Slenderman can shift from a spooky story used as a vehicle to try and create realistic photoshop images to a viral urban legend with a life of its own (case in point, check how Pepe the Frog devolves from its creator’s intentions).
Social Vulnerability and Mental Health
On top of Internet virility, this specific scenario also includes levels of social solitude. The two girls at the center of the crime cordoned off at the very developmental stage where community is absolutely necessary, not only for personal development but also to remain within reasoned belief.
Lastly, mental illness plays a role in the case. While psychologists conclude one girl to be relatively normal, the schizophrenia of the other plays a key role not only in imparting a belief to the reality of Slenderman, but also the ability to act on such frightening levels. Here too, the need for community emerges. Typically, schizophrenia can be managed, especially when reality gets reinforced in a caring group of peers. Without it, danger could protrude into reality.
A creepy look into the underbelly of internet culture and the social dynamics of teenagers, Beware the Slenderman feels incomplete because the real-life story is incomplete. As it stands, the girls are facing a trail this year, as adults. The full outcome and ramifications of the judiciary system will not be felt for years to come. Where some docudramas can sign off with a verdict and a where-are-they-now montage, this story gestates in the court system.
Nevertheless, Beware the Slenderman provides fascinating detail to a case that cut through the monotony of the Today show headlines. If you’re interested in the damaging influence the Internet holds on modern urban legends, this film is for you.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5