“Beware the Slenderman” is a haunting documentary that takes viewers into the minds of children infatuated and eventually consumed by the forces of digital enclaves.
Director Irene Taylor Brodsky seeks to answer the question veiled in the burrows of the justice system: what do we do with children who commit heinous crimes?
The film details the impact Internet meme culture has on impressionable children in contemporary society by focusing on the near fatal influence of one particular popularity: Slenderman.
Slenderman is a faceless, rail thin and abnormally tall figure with elongated limbs. He is often described as the modern-day boogeyman. Slenderman originated on the comedy website Something Awful and since then the stories have taken on a life of their own, often involving stalking, abducting and terrorizing people—namely children.
Brodsky decided to waddle down a primrose path to tell the story of 12-year-olds involved in an alleged murder plot: Anissa Weier and Morgan Geysers, girls who couldn’t decipher fiction from reality. The two allegedly conspired to murder a friend all in the hopes of being welcomed as one of Slenderman’s “proxies.”
Going through the psychoses of the young girls and furthering their humanization seemed to be common themes. The film includes personal interviews with the parents of both alleged perpetrators as well as some experts on Internet culture such as famous scientist Richard Dawkins.
Brodsky does as any filmmaker would and shifts the blame away from the underage girls. She focuses more on environmental stimuli and mental predispositions that lead the girls to the notorious assault.
It was clear she did not want to paint these girls as monsters, but as victims of a society that often lets the Internet become a stand-in for the imaginations of children.
The girls may be the ones sitting in a courtroom waiting to be convicted, but the narrative Brodsky sought to depict was more an indictment on society for failing Weier and Geysers. If not in a court of law, then in the courts of moral and civic duty—we are to blame.
There were points throughout the film, namely the ominous musical score and the inclusion of art and edited photographs of Slenderman, where I understood completely how this figure could frighteningly captivate the minds of children.
The decision to make Slenderman featureless allows people to cast whatever fears, anxieties and traumas they have onto the character. He serves as the embodiment of one’s terrors. The Internet is a dark place and often forces osmosis between material and impressionable minds, especially those of children, like never before.
While the overlying message pondered who to blame and what to do with children who commit heinous crimes, the answer seemed to be a bit less explicit. As the credits rolled the question remained unanswered, perhaps deliberately.
Viewers are left contemplating the veracity of Brodsky’s claim—maybe society has failed the next generation. It was society who neglected these children right into the arms of the Internet, symbolized by Slenderman, so society must climb out of the self-inflicted abyss.
The way Brodsky critiques modern culture without being accusatory is characteristic of a masterful documentarian. “Beware the Slenderman” is a film worthy of universal praise, and one everyone needs to see, before it’s theoretically too late.