SXSW Film Review: Beware The Slenderman

Posted in Film, Reviews, SXSW
By Sam Bathe on 15 Mar 2016

Irene Taylor Brodsky’s Beware The Slenderman is a harrowing true crime documentary that explores the tragic stabbing of a 12-year-old school girl by her two friends, fueled the fantasy and delusion of an internet meme gone wrong.

On Saturday 31st May, 2014 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser led friend Payton Leutner into the forest to kill her, stabbing her 19 times. Payton miraculously survived, somehow crawling to a nearby road before being rushed to hospital, but the aftermath of this tragic event will live on for some time.

Discovering the fictional supernatural character ‘Slenderman’ online, an anthology legend that has spawned countless fan-created short stories, illustrations, short films, even online video games, the girls quickly became wrapped up in his spell.

The tall, faceless character wears a suit and is said to prey on children, stalking, abducting and traumatising his victims unless they execute his demands. For Anissa and Morgan’s young minds, this fiction felt all too real. Believing their and their family’s lives were in genuine danger, to appease the Slenderman, the girls convinced themselves they must kill their friend Payton, and the events of that day played out.

To give the audience an impression of the weight under which the girls were acting, Brodsky dives deep into Slenderman legend, exploring its small beginnings to now being one of the most wide-ranging internet ’creepypastas’ – a term used to describe similar fan-created supernatural or horror anthologies. Chilling the audiences with a variety of pictures, clips and video of children playing the terrifying online games, however, it’s when Beware the Slenderman speaks to the families of Morgan and Anissa that it comes into its own.

Agreeing to talk on camera for the first time, to some extent the parents of Morgan and Anissa are still in disbelief at such a horrific turn of events. Alongside video of the two girls’ initial police interviews, the parents talk about the difficulties of policing access to the internet, and with such a modern medium, even 12-year-olds are smarter than adults at the technology, even if they don’t understand the content they have access too. To that effect, the father of Anissa, spoke elequently at SXSW during a panel on the movie.

The final turn explores Anissa and Morgan’s current status in the legal system. Despite committing the crime at 12-years of age, last year Waukesha County Court declared the girls would be tried as adults rather than in juvenile court, claiming as they are now 16, they are mature enough for the adult system. Such a strange predicament for anyone unfamiliar with the American Justice System, in certain states, the burden is placed on juvenile defendants to argue they be tried in juvenile court, not laying the responsibility with the prosecution to prove proceedings be upgraded.

As the film argues we live in an age too quick to punish, yet wholly reluctant to protect and educate our children about the modern digital world, while an important message, unfortunately Brodsky loses sight of the Slenderman case for a more wide-ranging conclusion.

Rather than layering analysis on-top of Anissa and Morgan’s cases, Brodsky speaks with experts over Skype as the film comes off track from what was a thoroughly compelling narrative up to that point. Perhaps Brodsky chose this route because with each case still in court, there is no organic finishing point. You could certainly argue Beware the Slenderman would be a more complete film told after judges had ruled, but this is also such a important cautionary tale that it needs to told. Hopefully, Brodsky will follow the film up as the case plays out, completing the job at a later date.

Beware the Slenderman is a fascinating exploration of the power of the internet and true crime tradgedy, though against peers The Jinx and Making A Murderer, Brodsky is always one step behind. But her fi lm certainly still stands on its own two feet, a completely chilling and totally fascinating tale of tragedy at the hands of a power, most did not even know the internet could wield.


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