Overview: Two 12-year-old American girls lured a friend into the Wisconsin woods and stabbed her 19 times in an effort to appease a faceless mythical entity known online as Slenderman. But there’s more to the story than the dark headlines it generated. Delving deep into this shocking crime, this sobering documentary examines how an urban myth could take root in impressionable young minds, leading to an unspeakable act.
Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky (HBO’s Oscar-nominated THE FINAL INCH), the documentary covers all sides of this unusual ongoing case, drawing on an eerie array of Slenderman-inspired art, games and self-produced video, all culled from the Internet, along with heart-wrenching, unprecedented access to the two girls’ families, courtroom testimony and interrogation room footage. Ultimately, the film reveals how adolescent isolation, mental health issues and the nebulous reality of the Internet created a chilling mandate for two young girls, with life-altering consequences. BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN features interviews with experts who help put the girls’ mental state and the Slenderman myth in context for the viewer.
Expectations: I have been waiting for this documentary ever since it was announced on HBO’s slate. I had forgotten all about the crime and the instigator behind it, but when this film came to light for me I thought it would make a great matter of opinion and discussion. This story is not just a ‘true crime’ report as is popular nowadays (thanks to HBO’s THE JINX, for one) but one full of debate beyond that. In fact, this site has already posted on the hot topic surrounding this issue. It also has to do with the issue of the influences the internet has on people. Remember the CANNIBAL COP documentary or the LOVE CHILD one? In both cases, their obsessive use of the internet for their amusement welcomed dangerous and dire consequences. Such is the case in the Slenderman story.
I am glad the overview cites it covers all sides of this story for there is a lot at stake here and I would not want to feel cheated out of ramifications this topic is packed with. So, let’s jump right in with that trailer (link is not broken) and get this story going.
Gut Reaction: Yes, it is all in there. There is a recount of the stabbing, via both courtroom testimony and interrogation footage. There is the background story of the young lives of Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier. There is the explanation of Slenderman and how it is just the latest version of the bogeyman through the ages and even delves into why such manifestations are a part of culture. The story culminates in court proceedings to determine whether the juveniles sentenced with premeditated attempted murder will stay in the juvie system or tried as adults. The prevalent players throughout this whole examinations have been the parents of Morgan & Anissa.
As I stated this topic had my attention and this documentary did also, for the most part. My only fault with it has to do with the style of presentation. I like my documentaries to hit me running with the facts. Irene Taylor Brodsky’s style, however, is to package it up with cinematic and artistic moments. Save that for the movies. She sets the mood with moody music and establishes the scene as if this were the opening shots of an epic movie. Over and over she shows sweeping shots of the Wisconsin woods as if to affirm that something disturbing happened in this idyllic landscape and the notion that Slenderman is lurking out there in his mansion in the woods. It is as if she thinks we need a moment to grasp what the last few minutes revealed. My mind swims with thoughts so those cinematic moments give the opposite effect and pull me out of the moment which is not what I want to do.
When I am in the moment of the documentary all goes well. There is no better way to get a full understanding of the crime than listening in on the interrogation room proceedings. The best part of the documentary right there. Hearing two girls of 12, in their own words, walk you through the incident from the slumber party, to the park restroom, to the game in the woods, to going ballistic with the knife and the decision to walk away and let her bleed out. Wow!
And the whole time you watch this you wonder how something on the internet could drive you to make that sacrifice in its name? How could this happen? And of course, it all starts to click when mental illness comes into focus. Then we start in on that path of delusions, schizophrenia and competency. The whole story adds layers and leaves you for a loop. But, that’s okay because we will give you a moment as the camera drone flies you over Waukesha for a moment. Then another moment is spent with the families talking about how they didn’t notice anything peculiar about their girls. In all, if you want a great crime story to leave you stirring your thoughts than watch BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN.
Bonus: The family of the victim, Payton (“Bella”) Leutner, apparently opted out of this documentary. That seemed a logical decision to me. This documentary would have broached the realm of being unwieldy if that family was in the mix as well. So to give the Leutner’s their time here is their moment with ABC News:
In Conclusion: BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN packed a lot of story and study in its 2-hour run; it didn’t need the atmospheric fluff. And we can mull over the unbelievability of how two girls could carry out this crime and argue whether they be tried as adults or not for quite a while. In fact, we will wait as the wheel of justice does turn slowly. A verdict will pass sometime in 2017. In the meantime, if your kids start talking about Slenderman, take heed!
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