Man, I don’t even know where to begin on this one. I went to Fantasia Fest. I saw a documentary about a contemporary iteration on the boogeyman. I figured there would be a discussion about the lore surrounding the Slender Man narrative. That’s expectation. Reality looks a little something like an hour and a half long horror show with interviews from the parents and courtroom footage of two twelve year old girls who stabbed another twelve year old nineteen times and left her to die in the woods as they attempted to walk five hours to the nearest state park where they claimed they would meet Slender Man at his mansion so they could become his proxies. What. The. Ever. Loving. Fuck.
I would love to open with something to the extent of “what’s wrong with kids these days?” but it becomes very clear midway through the documentary that we’re discussing several things at once: mental instability of the accused being the very tip of the iceberg. The film sets up the two antagonizers as social outcasts and Slenderman as a saviour figure to which they were pandering.
I asked myself, this Slender Man guy — he’s a monster, right? Apparently he’s a monster who welcomes the disenfranchised with open arms and there’s an entire fandom built around the folklore — a folklore that was created by a guy named Eric Knudsen on a forum post at Something Awful:
The Slender Man was created on June 10, 2009 on a thread in the Something Awful Internet forum. The thread was a photoshop contest in which users were challenged to edit everyday photographs to appear paranormal. A forum poster with the user name “Victor Surge” contributed two black and white images of groups of children, to which he added a tall, thin spectral figure wearing a black suit. (Wikipedia)
In the aftermath, I googled. There’s fan art of the would-be killers. There’s fan art of the stabbing and weak justifications for the artist’s interests and intentions. I don’t want to post any of it. There are things too terrible to describe when you fictionalize real life sometimes, and there’s enough of that in the documentary to seriously scare any hardened adult.
Background Info: Slender Man?
Note: Not the trailer for the documentary. I’m including this video to offer some framework for the figure that allegedly influenced these two tweens and their actions. You can grab further details here and here — the latter being an exceptional article on the Slender Man as he fits into popular culture on the web.
At the present date, there’s no trailer for the documentary in circulation that I’ve found.
Peter Pan. Pied Piper. Boogeyman. Slenderman. Narratives that revolve around the ostracized, the kids who never fit, who had few friends, who were looking to belong elsewhere because adolescence isn’t difficult and traumatic enough when it’s grounded in reality. I’m familiar with themes of escape. I’m pretty well-versed in them, given my predisposition towards horror novels and dark fantasy, and given that if I was a decade younger, I’d probably be hanging out on Something Awful where the story of Slenderman was born, or on Creepypasta where it’s still being propagated by the very kids who probably would have ostracized me anyway.
It’s all very meta. All so terribly Inception-like.
Man, did being a teenager suck. And yes, I imagine it’s worse today to be thirteen than it was a decade ago. And yes, I expect that in a decade, it’ll be worse still. You have my sympathies and my condolences, teenagers of today, but here’s the lesson you need to learn: there is the real and there is the imagined, and one of the marks of growing older and gaining your independence is the ability to differentiate between them.
This only ironic inasmuch as I’m inclined to persuade you that the terrible things your parents told you weren’t true actually are: it’s the mark of the great writers in the horror genre: they are capable of constructing a compelling fantasy that suggests that the ghosts, the monsters, and the beasties exist within the shadow of doubt. It may be a small sliver in which the potential of these things are real, but you need to remember that when you shut off the light at night that there is in fact nothing under the bed. But more importantly: you’re going to survive adolescence. Keep telling yourself that: you will make it out okay, especially during the times you’re convinced you won’t. And if you can’t compel yourself to believe that, tell your parents. Tell your friends. Tell your teachers. Tell your social worker. Tell your guidance counselor. Tell the internet. Tell someone, because you’re not alone; you just need to hang the fuck on until you make it out the other side.
Beware the Slenderman
Beware the Slenderman was a brutal documentary. Brutal for me as a writer of dark things, brutal because the state of the world today (this week, this month, this year, this generation) is terrible place to be tied to, and brutal because a twelve-year-old was stabbed nineteen times so two of her best friends could appease a fictitious character. While the motivations are varied (leaning towards the desire to become his “proxy” and join him at Slender Mansion — to be taken away from the loneliness and confusion and shitscapade that is being a teenager), the one thing that terrified me the most was the claim that they wanted to “prove the skeptics wrong”.
But that’s not all. There are other crimes associated with the mythos of the Slenderman the documentary didn’t even touch on: A quick google search and visit to Wikipedia reveals that a fourteen-year-old from Florida set fire to her house while her mother and brother were still inside, and a 13-year-old from Cincinnati tried to stab her mother with a kitchen knife. There was a rash of suicide attempts in 2015 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota tied to Slenderman lore, recognized as a “suicide spirit”, as well.
Let’s take a step back. Imagine that I didn’t fall over myself mid-freakout following this film. It’s coming to HBO, and it’s an unpleasant experience that makes me want to homeschool my unborn future younglings.
I don’t know what the solution is. I feel so terribly for these kids and their parents.
Yeah, the documentary was excellent, but it’s not a fun thing to take in.
Beware the Slenderman: Summary
Lurking in the shadows of the Internet, a faceless modern-day bogeyman has attracted the attention and fear of a young generation who whisper his name online. Slenderman lives on the dark pages of the web, where impressionable youth create and cultivate his mythos in message boards, YouTube clips and various other digital incantations. But the online fairy tale becomes a shocking real-life horror as two 12-year-old girls, guided by their devotion to Slenderman, lure their friend into the woods to attempt a seemingly inexplicable, brutal murder. From the depths of one the Internet’s most unsettling creations to the court case that must consider the consequences, Beware the Slenderman brings to light questions of accountability in an age where young, growing minds are only a few clicks away from creating and consuming something that may influence them to commit unspeakable crimes.