He can be anywhere from 6 to 12 feet tall. He can teleport, has long tentacle-like arms and no face. He always wears a black suit, and he preys on children.
These days, it’s hard to run across anyone who hasn’t heard of the infamous Slenderman, a creature created in 2009 by creepypasta user Eric Knudsen, also known as “Victor Surge.” Knudsen created the character for a Photoshop contest to make everyday photos appear paranormal. It didn’t take long for the Slenderman to gain a tremendous following all over the internet, resulting in fan fiction stories, fan art, cosplay and fake “sightings” and photo evidence of the tall, mysterious and faceless man.
It was all in good fun at first. Who doesn’t enjoy a good scary story?
But then it went too far.
HBO’s new documentary, “Beware the Slenderman,” tells the story of two 12-year-old girls who, in 2014, stabbed their friend 19 times in the woods of Waukesha, Wisconsin, to prove their allegiance to the Slenderman.
In May 2014, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier were having a slumber party with their friend Payton “Bella” Leutner. The morning after the sleepover, the girls asked Weier’s mother if they could go to play at their local park. The girl’s mother agreed, unaware her daughter had tucked away a kitchen knife in her coat. Hours later, Leutner’s body was discovered on the side of the road near the woods, and she was rushed to the hospital to be treated for her stab wounds.
Geyser and Weier were picked up near Interstate 94 by the Waukesha County sheriff’s deputy. In the interrogation tapes featured in the documentary, we see Geyser and Weier immediately after the attack, expressing some remorse for their actions but explaining the attack the same way any 12-year-old might speak about getting in trouble for missing a homework assignment or being caught doing what she knew she wasn’t supposed to be doing.
It’s a chilling story to say the least; how could two 12-year-olds plot to murder their friend after a birthday party sleepover? How could they lure her into a local park’s restroom and knock her unconscious, then lead her to the woods and brutally attack her with a kitchen knife? How could they have believed the legend of Slenderman?
The documentary, directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky, explores the lives of both the suspects in what has been infamously been dubbed as “The Slenderman Stabbing,” before and after the event, as well as the origins of Slenderman’s almost disturbing cult following. The film goes in depth, uncovering the the truth behind how the legend of the Slenderman could manifest itself so vividly in the minds of the girls to where they could leave their friend for dead in the woods and could still believe in the creature’s existence.
“Beware the Slenderman” doesn’t help to justify the actions of the girls, but it does offer some explanation as to how the crime could have occurred and how there are more factors to explore than what is commonly chalked up to poor or negligent parenting and too much time on the internet.
In an interview with Geyser’s parents, she is described as a very strong and independent-minded girl who worried her parents when she didn’t cry or otherwise react emotionally in the movie “Bambi” when the mother deer is shot. Ultimately, we learn Morgan’s father suffers form schizophrenia, and Morgan herself has been diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia, which explains her day-time hallucinations and delusions about the Slenderman.
Meanwhile, Weier’s parents struggle with the difficult reality that their daughter conceived to murder her friend right under their noses. Anissa was somewhat of a social outcast who sought companionship in the weird world of the internet on websites like creepypasta, where she came across the story of the Slenderman. She grew enamored by the character, and after showing it to her friend Morgan, came to the conclusion that she and Morgan needed to kill someone in order to prove their allegiance to the Slenderman and protect their families from being harmed by him. The documentary discusses how Anissa displays signs of a delusional disorder or the inability to distinguish what is real from what is reality.
Ultimately, this film takes a deeper look at what the combination of mental illness, adolescent social isolation and the “friendly” companionship of the internet can do to a young mind. Viewers are forced to wonder: Could this crime have been prevented? Can the fantasy that grows on the web be resisted? And who is really to blame for this terrible crime?
“Beware the Slenderman” puts into perspective the lives of three girls whose lives were changed forever because of a tall, lanky, faceless man who walks through nightmares and steals the lives of children. Only this time, the lives he stole were not merely fan fictions on a scary story website. They were the lives of Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, who would have killed their best friend to be accepted into the cold tentacle-like arms of the Slenderman. And what’s most chilling about this documentary is that the story it tells could happen to anyone.