Anyone who frequents this website has become intimately familiar with Creepypasta, those little servings of horror in legend and real life. For your typical fright fan, they provide entertaining diversions—but what happens when an obsession with a popular modern myth takes over an impressionable mind? It happened in 2014 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and the story is told in an engrossing new documentary called BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN.
Currently making the fest rounds (including, most recently, Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival) and set to premiere on HBO later this year, the movie explores what happened when a couple of young friends became too caught up in the on-line cult of the Slender Man. Any devotee of creepypasta will be familiar with this figure, a tall, faceless, tentacled being whose image has proliferated across the web since he was created by Eric Knudsen (a.k.a. Victor Surge) in 2009. Sometimes he’s depicted as good, more often as evil, and the fascination with him has grown to the point where a movie about him is currently in development at Screen Gems—but no fictional feature could likely match the chill power of BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN.
There have been a few real-life attacks motivated by enthrallment to the Slender Man, but the most horrific and tragic was the Waukesha case, in which 12-year-old besties Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier lured another friend into the woods, stabbed her repeatedly and left her to die. Miraculously, their victim managed to crawl out of the trees and reach a road, where she was discovered and rescued. Geyser and Weier were found and arrested a short time later, and told authorities that the Slender Man had commanded them to commit the crime, threatening to kill their families if they didn’t go through with it.
In BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN, filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky explores the case from every angle, offering a history of the Slender Man and an extremely well-structured visual chronicle of the attempted murder and its aftermath. What’s notable, and rather remarkable considering the possibilities, is that Brodsky doesn’t hold the Internet itself up as a villain. She uses horror-film cinematic gambits to acquaint us with the Slender Man, while revealing that there was much more to Geyser and Weier’s story than that. Through copious footage of the girls’ police interrogations, news footage and interviews with many of the other people involved, Brodsky creates a portrait of three families and a surrounding community that were torn apart by an inexplicable, horrible act.
Geyser and Weier seem frighteningly dispassionate when telling their stories to the cops, but are they evil? As BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN continues, that question becomes hard to answer as we get to know their personalities and histories through on-camera time with their parents, who are devastated and confused at the unimaginable atrocity their children have committed. The most startling conversation comes midway through the movie, as Geyser’s father reveals that he’s a schizophrenic, and speculates on whether that condition might have been passed down to his daughter. For all that, however, the bottom line is ultimately that a young girl nearly lost her life simply because fate threw the wrong two people together, at an impressionable age when their fantasies and delusions could feed off each other to destructive ends. In that sense, BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN carries echoes of HEAVENLY CREATURES, Peter Jackson’s saga of two teenagers who also lost themselves in an imaginary world that led them to murder.
BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN ends with the story still in progress, with the legal process ongoing and plenty of questions still hanging in the air. That uncertainty, far from undercutting the movie, compounds the impact of this examination of a case that is suffused in ambiguity, which makes it all the more heartbreaking and unsettling than a cut-and-dried saga of true-life good and evil. There’s one last unnerving note added toward the end of the documentary, as Brodsky shows us samples of online art and tributes to Geyser and Weier. Although Brodsky doesn’t make the point, it’s hard not to feel the implication: This celebration of the two girls has the potential to inspire copycat crimes of its own.