Hot Docs 2016 Review: Beware the Slenderman

Slenderman is a crowd-sourced internet boogeyman and form of modern folklore. In 2012, two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, attempted to kill their friend Payton in his name. Beware the Slenderman recounts the chilling murder attempt, but is more concerned with how this could possibly happen, and as it turns out, the context is equally as troubling as the crime.

In stark opposition to most news coverage of the story, director Irene Taylor Brodsky looks into neuroscience, the internet, mental illness, and a number of other issues crucial to the story. And because each issue feels so closely related to the crime and the characters, the scope of the film does not take away anything from the central story being told. Brodsky’s seemingly full access to the parents of the children provides valuable depth and quite often, some heartbreak. It also helps that this film, considering its subject matter, is beautiful to look at.

The film devotes a lot of time to Slenderman (maybe too much) in establishing the character in the film and in these children’s lives. His presence and general creepiness are felt throughout but the Slenderman origins and artwork could have been trimmed, even it is more redundant than outright wearisome.

There is some great commentary on the impact of human relationships and how ideas and information spread. The internet’s complicity in all of this, including its ability to act as a companion to socially detached and vulnerable children, is thoroughly unsettling.

Ultimately, the film succeeds by skilfully turning a nearly unbelievable true crime story into a grounded exploration of the digital age. The pressing questions raised by the film are far too many to count. It’s very clear that the film has a lot on its mind and believes that we should too.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose. Unless you're Harry Potter in which case you'll lose... everything.

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