Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
On a Saturday morning in May 2014, in the middle class suburban town of Waukesha, Wisconsin, a pre-teen named Payton Leutner, known as Bella, crawled her way to medical help after having been stabbed nineteen times by her friends Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, with whom she’d just had a slumber party. Leutner miraculously survived the attack despite one wound occurring only a millimeter away from a vital coronary artery, while her attackers, who were also thirteen years old, were taken into custody.
When interviewed, the attackers both had the same story, that they planned to murder Bella to please the “Slenderman”, a modern-day Boogeyman figure who first appeared in 2009 on the Creepypasta website (basically an encyclopedic collection of urban legends) and quickly became a popular horror meme. The girls believed this man to be real, or at least they claimed to, and this fascinating documentary looks at their crime but also investigates this pop culture phenomenon that has inspired no end of spine-tingling art: drawings, photos and videos heavily populate the film and provide a great deal of its thrills.
Director Irene Taylor Brodsky balances this with interviews of the parents of the culprits (and whatever she could get from the victim’s family) for something that plays like a modern day Heavenly Creatures. The difficulties of puberty, the insecurity of youth, the dark side of dealing with mental illness and the phenomenon of constant electronic screen usage that seems to occupy young people’s attention are thrown into the mix in describing this situation but, thankfully, no pat solution is attempted.
Some of the sequences of the film feel a bit extraneous, I’m not sure I needed to have memes explained to me with footage of the Ice Bucket Challenge, but this too is possibly a look at the move that shared knowledge has made from orally discussed stories (like The Pied Piper Of Hamlin fairy tale that Brodsky includes so effectively) to actual enacted behaviour by millions of people around the world (even Donatella Versace did the Ice Bucket Challenge, after all).