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Beware The Slenderman

★★★

Beware The Slenderman revisits the bloody betrayal of Payton ‘Bella’ Leutner, at the hands of fellow 12-year-olds Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser. In an effort to appease a towering, faceless ghoul dubbed Slenderman - in actuality, a fictional internet meme - the pair very nearly cost Leutner her life, luring her into a trap and stabbing her a total of 19 times. The documentary draws upon police interrogations, expert testimony and archived footage, among other things, to try and make sense of it all.
 
With regard to the film’s efforts to unpack the key details of the crime, the what, how and why feel somewhat out of sequence. The grizzly intricacies of the stabbing, though fairly uncomfortable to hear, are absolutely essential to the story. It’s odd, then, that Beware The Slenderman delays retracing the specifics of the incident for what feels like an eternity, instead prioritising an examination of the titular boogeyman. This, too, is necessary, but misplaced within the film’s timeline. It makes more sense to switch the two segments, especially when you consider the subject matter. Director Irene Taylor missed an opportunity here - blessed with its very own ‘monster under the bed’, Beware The Slenderman shines a torch upon it within the first half hour. There’s no effort to capitalise on the mystique and tension inextricably tied to the Creepypasta fiend, which is honestly surprising and, again, feels like a waste.
 
The film even includes footage of Slenderman reaction videos, only consolidating this idea of untapped potential. Groups of young gamers are glued to their screens, anxious in their anticipation of an almighty scare. They’re not sure what they’re dealing with and it’s this fear of the unknown that leaves them visibly unnerved. That’s power. Beware The Slenderman might have wielded similar power, if only it tiptoed around the mythology of the Slenderman a little better and a little later. While a documentary ought to avoid scaring people, certainly, it should engage people as effectively as possible. Beware The Slenderman could have rated higher in that regard.
 
Aside from this main gripe, the film is pretty solid. Sprawling access to archived audio and video is put to good use, enabling Beware The Slenderman to deliver an exceptional level of insight. It provides a look into the lives and minds of the girls, as well as their respective families, all in all executed well. Vision of the court hearings will likely prove fascinating to most, with CCTV footage of the interrogations - recorded shortly after the crime - proving every bit as engrossing. It’s satisfying that the speculated psychology behind the crime is laid bare, the girls’ accounts and various experts piecing things together.
 
Meanwhile, some might lose patience with the seemingly random interludes of stock-footage-esque shots. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to avoid holding on CCTV footage at all costs, for fear that the material may lack something, in terms of visual stimulation. That’s untrue, here. In either case, the creative decision to implant still shots of forests over key footage is every bit as strange. That’s just one example, but it occurs a lot more often than you would expect.
 
Overall, the documentary benefits from access to crucial material, but the presentation of said material leaves a little still to be desired. It’s ironic, really: Beware The Slenderman offers nothing to fear. You could argue that, as it’s a documentary, the facts should remain the focal point. However, the film could have satisfied both conditions and been absolutely essential viewing in the process. As it is, Beware The Slenderman tells its tragic story of mental illness, malleable minds and memes just well enough.
 
BY NICK MASON