Television

Slenderman Documentary Unpacks Disturbing Teen Murder Attempt

Also, Riverdale gives Archie the gritty reboot nobody asked for.

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'Beware the Slenderman'
'Beware the Slenderman,' HBO

Beware the Slenderman. HBO. Monday, January 23, 10 p.m.

Riverdale. The CW. Thursday, January 26, 9 p.m.

Kids these days! Remember the good old days when the worst trouble a mischievous child could get into was maybe joining a killer sex cult or blowing herself up in a Greenwich Village bomb factory? Well, television this week is full of evidence that Dennis the Menace has left the building, probably armed with a hatchet and a pocket full of strap-ons.

Actually, HBO's documentary Beware the Slenderman doesn't deserve such a flippant introduction. It's a serious—and seriously disturbing—piece of work about a pair of 12-year-old Wisconsin girls who, inspired by a creepy internet meme, lured a friend into the woods after a birthday party and stabbed her 19 times. That she survived was no fault of theirs.

The news of that 2014 attack on 12-year-old Payton Leutner by her supposed friends Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier was, for most American grown-ups, the first word they'd heard of Slenderman, a lanky, faceless character who for the past five years had been haunting Internet chatboards and campfire-story sites.

In the beginning, Slenderman was nothing more than a shadowy and curiously disquieting image, digitally inserted into the periphery of family snapshots, usually eyeing or surrounded by children. But as he grew into a fad, inspiring fan fiction, homemade video games and a slew of "found-footage" videos modeled after The Blair Witch Project, the Slenderman myth acquired its own canon.

He was said to abduct and murder little children in ominously unspecified ways. The victims were often unloved or neglected kids, giving the killings a somehow even more chilling penumbra of mercy. Slenderman was able to multiply his damage many times over by acquiring proxies, cult members to do his work. And practically anybody might be swept up in his machinations, as victim, proxy or both. "The moment you know about him, he knows about you," explains one Slenderman expert interviewed in Beware.

Like millions of other kids, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier became fascinated by all things Slenderman. But unlike all the rest, they had trouble comprehending that he was imaginary. Perhaps social isolation was part of it; neither girl had many friends. (Though that begs the question, why turn on one of their few schoolmates who was a pal.)

In any event, they plotted to qualify as proxies by murdering Peyton and fleeing to Slenderman's hidden kingdom in a nearby national park. In harrowingly matter-of-fact confessions to police later, they described how they first tried to convince their victim to go to sleep to avoid unnecessary confusion and noise. ("I don't like screaming," Anissa primly declared to the cops. "That's one thing I can't handle.") When that didn't work, they banged her head against the wall of a park restroom in an attempt to knock her unconscious. Finally they jumped her from behind ("like lionesses chasing down a zebra," bragged Anissa) and Morgan stabbed her 19 times. "I trusted you," murmured Peyton as they dragged her into the bushes to die. Which, miraculously, she didn't.

Despite its title, Beware the Slenderman is not a call to moral panic. Writer-director Irene Taylor Brodsky, a CBS News producer before she turned to documentaries a decade ago, steers clear of both tabloid shrieking and babble. Neither the internet nor horror culture is demonized as an assassin of juvenile morality.

Morgan's mother, noting that at the same age she was a big fan of Stephen King's It, a novel in which a group of children is terrorized by a killer clown, says she was aware of her daughter's fascination with Slenderman but thought nothing of it: "We never thought for a moment that she could believe that it's real."

And though there's understandably a good bit of blue-sky psychological theorizing about what could possibly have turned a couple of cossetted suburban 12-year-olds homicidal, Brodsky always steers it back to basics. As one doctor notes, talk of childhood schizophrenia and adolescent delusions is fine. "But if your delusion starts telling you to kill people and you're not capable of saying no," he points out, "there's a problem."

A problem, it should be added, that extends back well before the internet or Stephen King. Whether they're unbalanced, just plain evil, or both, sociopathic kids have been committing incomprehensible murders at least since the time of Leopold and Loeb. Sadly, it's common enough that when British crime novelist Anne Perry was revealed to be writing from experience—she had, at the age of 15, helped a schoolmate beat her mother to death—Perry's reaction was that the whole thing was a bit of pish-posh. "I really didn't think it would surface again so long afterward," she complained to a reporter. "And it if did, it would be, you know, so what?"

Considerably more shocking to you may be that not only does the comic book Archie still exist, they're making it into a TV show. (Okay, another TV show.) In an act of reimagination that makes Slenderman fantasies seem almost normal, Riverdale turns Archie, Jughead and the gang into a bunch of killers, sluts, and sexual predators. And no, it's not an improvement.

Amiable Archie (New Zealand TV actor KJ Apa) is now a tortured artist, scribbling turgid song lyrics around the clock. Jughead (Cole Sprouse, whose career apparently peaked at age 8 when he was Ross' son Ben on Friends) is a gay social butterfly whose main object in life is servicing the deeply closeted jock Moose (hunky newcomer Cody Kearsley). Veronica (another newcomer, Camila Mendes) is a bit bitchier ("I'm Breakfast at Tiffany's, but this place is strictly In Cold Blood") than she used to be, and Betty (Lili Reinhart, Surviving Jack) a bit whinier. In the pilot episode, they make out not with Archie but one another, an act that would have caused millions of preadolescent body parts of various types to explode back in the comic book's heyday in the 1960s, but seems curiously passe in an age when everybody from Ariana Grande to Madonna uses lesbian kisses as a marketing device.

Perhaps the only readily recognizable member of the old crowd is Reggie Mantle (Ross Butler, Teen Wolf), Archie's rival in all things, especially all things female, though he's learned some new words. Welcoming Archie back to school after the summer, he inquires snidely: "Did you tap some cougar ass this summer?" This turns out not be a random wisecrack, but a reference to the long-suffering teacher Miss Grundy (Eve Parker, Rush), who has lost about 30 years off her age and added about three cup sizes to her washboard chest. And she did indeed liven up summer school by Letourneauing Archie in her VW bug.

If any of this sounds campy or entertaining, I'm afraid I've failed you. The acting is overcooked, the writing homicide-inducingly arch; and making the narrative dirtier, I am sad to report, is not the same thing as making it more sophisticated. Funky Winkerbean, anybody?

NEXT: What Trump (and Obama) Got Wrong About Loyalty and Patriotism

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  1. Funky Winkerbean, anybody?

    Hell of a masturbation euphemism there, Garvin.

    1. I figured he was more into beetling his Bailey.

      1. Or calvining his Hobbes.

        1. There are no rules to CalvinBall.

  2. Is he slender everywhere? I mean, is his dick like a noodle or something?

  3. Clearly this is all crypto-anti-Trump literature. I quit this website until 4 years from now!!!

  4. Cole Sprouse, whose career apparently peaked at age 8 when he was Ross’ son Ben on Friends

    Says the guy with apparently no kids. He was on Nickolodeon for quite a while with his, now dead, twin brother.

    1. Sorry, not dead. I was thinking of the wrong twins.

      1. The correct answer was: The Adventures of Pete & Pete

    2. The Suite Life (about 2 twins with a single mom who live in a hotel she works at.)

      and

      The Suite Life on Deck. (they took the hotel-based show to a cruise ship)

  5. Anybody watch Stranger Things? Is it good? Other new-ish TV recs?

    1. I liked it. Everyone kept going on about Spielberg, but it is really more of an early-career Stephen King pastiche.

      1. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. The problem was, everyone talked it up as being the greatest thing since sex, so I was kind of let down because my expectations were for it to be the greatest show ever.

        1. Yeah. There is always that. I watched it fairly early on before all the hype got too bad.

          Also, if you are so inclined, I continue to be impressed with the Marvel series on Netflix. They aren’t perfect, but they remain very entertaining.

          1. Enjoyed Daredevil, and looking forward to Punisher.

            1. Agreed with all of the above. So far I think Luke Cage was the weakest of them, and it was still very good.

              When the worst you can offer is far above average, you’re doing something right.

              1. Cage was ok until they killed the most interesting character.

              2. I think the main issue has been that they are having trouble creating storylines that can sustain narrative drive over 13 episodes and still get them to the end point of the season.

                Imagine Luke Cage cut to 8 episodes and all the repetitive scenes cut out. Imagine Jessica Jones down to 10 and how many sub-sub-plots that went nowhere could have been discarded.

                Even Daredevil could have used a few less hours of Foggy being a whiny dick wet blanket.

                1. Foggy fucks hot chicks though

            2. I’ve enjoyed them all. Faithful to the core of the source material while doing a great job of integrating them into the MCU.

              Other than Jessica Jones, I grew up with those comics in the 70’s.

    2. Thanks. Reason comments, the only trusted source for everything. I’ve been watching Peaky Blinders – it’s pretty good, although possibly running out of steam in season 3.

      1. Anyone watch Black Mirror? Is Agile Cyborg the head writer? First episode had the PM of England fucking a pig to get kidnappers to return a princess. I was a bit hammered when I watched so I may have missed some of the nuance.

        1. Black Mirror is awesome, but I can only watch one episode a week. Binging is out of the question, too disturbing.

        2. I think of it as England’s answer to the Outer Limits reboot from the 1990s. It’s my opinion that Season 3 is the most solid, and it is certainly my favourite. Season 3 was excellent, in fact, I liked every episode.

          1. Nosedive (S3E1) was painful to watch.

        3. I watched the 1st episode and it was way more disturbing that I was prepared for. I guess it was “good” in a way, but I didn’t really enjoy watching it. I also didn’t realize it was basically a movie rather than a serialized show, so I was kind of confused by the pacing.

          1. S2E3 might be the best of the series. I honestly think you could just skip ahead.

            I haven’t watched any of Season 3 yet, I’ve been gorging on Britsh cop shows. I don’t know why I love them so much.

            1. +8 seasons of Inspector Lewis

              Speaking of British cop shows, Endeavor is also excellent.

              1. I’m about halfway through Vexed.

            2. Seems like they’re a couple of notches smarter than the average American fare. Or maybe it’s the accents, who knows. There’s a 2 part episode of Luther that’s an incredible (unintentional) 2nd amendment advertisement. Basically all of London is being terrorized by some dorks with medieval weapons. Just one person carrying would’ve solved the problem.

              1. I find myself thinking similar things when watching shows on the Beeb – “why doesn’t someone just shoot that guy? Oh, right, they’ve all been disarmed.”

              2. Happy Valley is fairly good.

        4. First episode was… interesting, despite the premise.

          Second episode lost me. Some sort of dystopian future run by reality TV, porn, and health nuts?? Not so much an interesting premise as just a fucking weird one. The weird setting plus the fact that the main character seems uninteresting, boring (and bored himself), and only seemed to be motivated by possibly getting laid had me quit halfway through.

          1. I liked the ending of that one.

      2. The Last Kingdom is really good. I’m finally getting caught up on Justified, too.

    3. I haven’t. I am very excited for Season 2 of The Expanse to become available.

      1. I just started watching The Expanse. It’s really well done, shockingly so considering it’s a SyFy production.

        1. It’s good, but adding in a giant mechanized praying mantis/shark hybrid would have made it perfect.

          1. I’m waiting for Ceres Station to become the lair of a giant python that’s clearly just someone’s pet Burmese crawling around on some miniatures.

        2. Yes great show when does season 2 kick off for fucks sake?

        3. I’d like to think that maybe it will ignite a popular resurgence of hard science fiction and bring some perspective to the IFLS set. That is probably wishful thinking.

      2. Yes! I’ve been trying to get everyone on board this show.

        It’s so good, you won’t believe it’s on SyFy!

        Have you read the books? They are pretty good too. I’m getting a little worried as the series goes on…

        1. I loved the first 2 books. The 3rd one bored me to tears for some reason, and I gather that the 4th one is even worse, based on Amazon reviews.

          1. They are becoming a bit repetitive. They try to mix it up a bit in the later books and go into the backstories of the crew.

            Haven’t read the newest one yet.

        2. I binged the expanse… VERY well done, imo.
          Effects, tech, story.. all much better than I was expecting.

        3. I read a little sort of mini sampler that was being given away for free at a bookstore, it didn’t draw me in. Maybe I will pick up the actual first book.

    4. I liked it but could have been shorter, with a PoV or two cut without losing much.

    5. My favorite new shows from 2016 are Preacher on AMC and Dirk Gently on BBC America. I also like The Expanse on Syfy and Colony on USA.

      1. Colony has grown on me; S02E01 drew me right in.

      2. I’m finding Orphan Black very watchable. I’m into the 2nd season now.

  6. Though that begs the question

    (sugarfree, so saddened)

    1. Yes. Yes he is.

  7. “Morgan’s mother, noting that at the same age she was a big fan of Stephen King’s It, a novel in which a group of children is terrorized by a killer clown”

    You know, I’m not sure 12 is an appropriate age to be reading It.

    1. Uh, yeah.

      I was talking about it with someone who had read it years ago, joking about that scene was going to be in the new movie adaptation… she had no idea what I was talking about. She had completely repressed that passage of the book.

    2. Are you saying that a group of pubescent boys gang-banging their one female friend to save reality in the form of a giant turtle might not be right for a 12 year old?

      Note — That might be a spoiler.

      1. Look, King’s a good horror author, but he’s also really weird. And sometimes the weirdness just… seeps into the stories…

        1. Look, King’s a good horror author, but he’s also really weird. And sometimes the weirdness just… seeps into the stories… his politics….

        2. It always read like he was too popular to be bound by this editor at that point. He was still drinking then, so the writing of it could be chalked up the booze, but not letting it get cut is arrogance.

          Fun fact: Due to his drinking, King says he has no memory whatsoever of writing Cujo.

          1. Fun fact: Due to his drinking, King says he has no memory whatsoever of writing Cujo.

            Huh, that’s ironic. I’ve tried to drink away my memory of reading Cujo. The part in It you referenced was the reason I stopped reading King (I did finish the book). Until then, I’d read almost everything he’d written – including the Bachman books.

        3. Have you read the extended version of The Stand? I’m thinking of a scene with The Kid. Yeah, King’s a bit off.

          1. I read it once and realized it should have stayed abridged.

            1. Yeah, didn’t really add anything. I was young and a far more voracious reader than I am now (just had more time, really).

    3. Maybe she watched the miniseries, which was plenty disturbing but didn’t have The Scene (if I remember right, I think I was about 12-13 when I saw It).

    4. I read IT when I was about 12. And I’m perfectly normal normal normal normal normal …

  8. “But unlike all the rest, they had trouble comprehending that he was imaginary. Perhaps social isolation was part of it; neither girl had many friends. (Though that begs the question, why turn on one of their few schoolmates who was a pal.)”

    Because a certain subset of sociopaths seek out other sociopaths. At least, that’s my understanding.

    1. +1 Harris and Klebold

    2. Because a certain subset of sociopaths seek out other sociopaths. At least, that’s my understanding.

      Are you talking about Slenderman or AM/PM Lynx?

      1. Dalmia and Richman articles.

  9. Since we are doing book reviews – Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan is a must read for any SciFi types. His Market Forces book was great too….the baseball bat in the boardroom piece gets me through many a corporate America meeting with a wistful smile.

    1. Altered Carbon is, indeed, fantastic, but Market Forces is shite – it reads like what it is, a dusted-off shitty spec-script written by a lefty featuring his view of capitalism. It has a fucking _reading list_ featuring Noam Chomsky for fuck’s sake.

      1. I always took it as tongue in cheek- you could be right but I still day dream about promoting myself by running exec VPs off an over pass on the morning commute. Don’t be so rigid…

        1. He was/is super-cereal – e.g., from the intro:

          “It’s also dedicated to all those, globally, whose lives have been wrecked or snuffed out by the Great Neoliberal Dream and Slash-and-Burn Globalization.”

          Caps his. /derp

          1. That’s pretty awesome…explains his gay sword fighter series a bit more clearly. So can I read his books and not end up unwittingly at a WTO riot?

  10. Oh, for crying out loud, if you’re going to slut up Archie and friends, just do a TV show of Cherry Poptart.

  11. Has anyone else played ‘Slender: The Arrival?’ Pretty fucking scary imo.

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  13. So, now the press wants us to believe an attempted murder was supposedly influenced by someone called “Slenderman”?! What’s next, that he has “shadowy connections” to “international finance”? We should watch out for his associates “Thinberg” and “Slimstein”?!

    I knew the press had an “angle” when they blamed the New Orleans flooding on the Levys.

  14. Actually, HBO’s documentary Beware the Slenderman doesn’t deserve such a flippant introduction. It’s a serious?and seriously disturbing?piece of work about a pair of 12-year-old Wisconsin girls who, inspired by a creepy internet meme, lured a friend into the woods after a birthday party and stabbed her 19 times. That she survived was no fault of theirs.
    ????? ???? ???
    ????? ???? 2017
    The news of that 2014 attack on 12-year-old Payton Leutner by her supposed friends Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier was, for most American grown-ups, the first word they’d heard of Slenderman, a lanky, faceless character who for the past five years had been haunting Internet chatboards and campfire-story sites.

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