In older horror movies, teens goofing around with Ouija boards led to big supernatural trouble. Nowadays, physical media of even that ilk is out. The teens in “Slender Man” go to the internet to learn about the title character, an otherworldly digital urban myth.
The movie follows four high school friends. There’s the feisty Wren (Joey King of “The Kissing Booth” fame), the down-to-earth track star Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles) and the relative ciphers Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) and Katie (Annalise Basso). Not content to merely search online for Slender Man, they “summon” him, at which point the forces of evil cough up onto their laptop what looks like a bad abstract student film. Further ill effects follow, with Katie the first to go missing (her alcoholic father gets to play red herring for half a scene).
The film’s end credits attribute Slender Man’s creation to a single person, Eric Knudsen, whose internet appearances as “Victor Surge” inspired the crowdsourced fiction and graphics that made the character an internet meme. To me, the faceless man in a black suit with a thin tie looks like a character out of a Steve Ditko comic. He’s so indefinitely conceived overall that I was reminded of the bit about the druids in the Spinal Tap song “Stonehenge”: “No one knows who they were or what they were doing/But their legacy remains.”
The character’s possible amusement value, though, is severely hindered by a recent real-life attempted murder case in which two preteen girls, inspired by Slender Man fiction, stabbed a classmate. That the director Sylvain White and the writer David Birke felt justified in moving ahead with this project anyway says pretty much what you think it does about ambition in Hollywood. (And this isn’t even the first movie inspired by the character!) But as it happens, they’ve wound up concocting the most perfunctory horror picture I’ve seen in some time. It’s not even worth making a “thin gruel” joke about.
Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes.