Over the next few weeks, our man in Melbourne, Sean W. Fallon, will be covering the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and reviewing some of his favourite movies that he catches there.
Overview: A documentary about the Slenderman Stabbings in which two girls, inspired by an internet ghost story, tried to kill their friend. HBO; 2016; Not Rated; 117 mins.
Horror: Beware the Slenderman is a scary movie, but not the kind of scary that the posters, title, and blurb would have you think. Yes, the titular Slenderman plays a big role in proceedings and the opening images of someone running through the woods into an encounter are creepy, but really the lion’s share of the unsettling feeling is not horror movie monsters and the creatures that wait in the woods.
Irene Taylor Brodsky’s documentary focuses on the Slenderman Stabbings of 2014. Two 12 year old girls, Morgan and Anissa, led their friend out into the woods to play hide and seek and then stabbed her 19 times as an offering to internet meme, The Slenderman. The friend survived and the girls were caught very soon after walking along the highway heading to the Slender Mansion, where he lives along with the other monsters from the Creepypasta Wiki.
Parents: The movie foregoes narration except for occasion title cards and the story is told by the girls during their interrogation in the hours after the attack, as well as some experts in psychology, memes, digital folklore, and, most of all, the parents of the attackers.
It’s here that the real fear sets in. Morgan’s mum and Anissa’s dad do most of the talking but all four parents get a chance to speak. I don’t have children, but whenever there is a case like this I always find myself fascinated by the parents of the perpetrators of these crimes. What must it be like to be guilty of a heinous crime just by association? The sense of guilt and the constant thoughts of what they could have done to stop their child from doing something evil would drive you mad, never mind the amount of time you would spend replaying every interaction you had had with your child that could have been a clue that you were raising someone capable of murder/attempted murder.
The movie keeps coming back to these parents as they process the ongoing trial and try to piece together what went wrong and why. Anissa’s dad blames the internet and the prevalence of iPads in schools and the hands of children. Morgan’s mother keeps going back to moments in Morgan’s childhood that she was a bit odd and extrapolates from there, especially once Morgan is diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Overall: The Slenderman is not the scariest part of Beware the Slenderman. Seeing the girls matter-of-factly talk about him like he’s real person is scary and the level of devotion they have to him is scary. The scariest parts for me though were how the movie shows the danger of loneliness, the horror of trying to work out how you raised a murderer, and the cruelty of the American judicial system (the girls, 12, will be tried as adults so both face a possible 65 years in prison).
It is to the movie’s credit that it isn’t a knee jerk diatribe against the evils of the internet. It’s more about how the internet can affect those who feel disenfranchised, who suffer from undiagnosed mental illness, who are bullied, who are lonely, and how when it falls into the hands of these poor people, that’s when it stops being about funny cat videos and becomes a doorway to fanaticism and murder.
Featured Image: HBO