REVIEW: Slender Man is a Charming, Yet Cluttered, Campfire Story

The Internet's favorite well dressed faceless monster is making his big screen debut in -- you guessed it -- Slender Man, a movie that seeks to finally tell the semi-niche online urban legend in a way that's suitable for the masses.

All things considered, it was a noble ambition to have. The Slender Man "lore" has been produced en masse by a hive mind of Internet citizens for years, making him about as dense and multifaceted as one of the urban legends that actually occur in nature -- a Blood Mary or a hook-handed hitchhiker -- but unfortunately, Slender Man doesn't manage to mine much more than cheap scares with confusing rules from the character's myriad source material.

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Directed by Sylvain White (The Losers), Slender Man focuses on a group of high school girls, best friends Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Wren (Joey King), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) and Katie (Annalisse Basso), who are experiencing their own variation of your standard teenage ennui about their small town lives. The girls themselves are arguably the strongest part of the movie -- there's a level of authenticity to their melodramatic eyerolls, their bossy-yet-affectionate friendships, their (occasionally embarrassing) obsession with cringing their way through dirty videos online, and scaring each other with dumb, spooky websites. It's pretty rare that a high school themed horror movie actually lets teenagers do real teenage things, but the first act of Slender Man is like flipping through an all-too-familiar yearbook.

It's that interest in spooky websites and urban legends that, predictably, gets the girls in trouble. On a whim they decide to try and "summon" a creepy figure called Slender Man by accessing an unavoidably Ring like video that supposedly brings him to you. From there, things are off to the races as the girls are plagued with horrifying nightmares, surreal visions, hallucinations and, finally, a rash of mysterious disappearances that plague their lives. There's not a whole lot to the plot: You watch the video, Slender Man comes and gets you, rinse, wash, repeat -- but that's not so bad. The setup itself doesn't necessarily need a lot of meat on its bones. Unfortunately, however, Slender Man really, really seems to think that it does.

Once the basic premise is established, the movie bends over backwards to add layer upon layer of confusing, vaguely defined mythology to the world and the monster -- everything from electromagnetic fields affecting brain patterns to a mysterious, anonymous Internet benefactor who tries to "help" the girls through their crisis. There's basically a random assortment of images repeated as though they have some significance: pregnant bellies, wrought iron gates, people suddenly without faces, long and stringy hair -- but they're never really explained. Technology comes into play by way of ominous video chats, but those never really pay off either.

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For all that Slender Man seems to want to put a new spin on the created-by-committee elements of the monster's lore, the end result feels unfocused and randomized. The girls' charming authenticity wavers in the face of their respective roulette-wheel tortures, there are side characters who come in and out of the story without rhyme or reason, and the experimental hodge-podge of jump cuts and camera effects only read as distracting rather than scary.

That said, there are a handful of genuinely creepy moments peppered throughout the film, and at a tight 90-minute run time, it's hard to begrudge too many of Slender Man's missteps. It doesn't overstay its welcome and its offenses are hardly egregious if you're looking for a cheap and easy spook-session to get you in the mood for the upcoming Halloween season. It may not be the most well rendered horror movie of the year, or the most compelling, but you could certainly do worse.

Opening Friday nationwide, director Sylvain White's Slender Man stars Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Annalise Basso and Javier Botet.

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