Beware the Slenderman is a thorough examination of the online phenomenon and the heinous crime committed in his name that raises interesting questions about mental health issues for juveniles, the effects of the internet on their impressionable minds and the powerful longing for kids to find somewhere they belong.
In the sleepy suburb of Waukesha, Wisconsin, we're introduced to Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, the two girls who make no attempts to deny their involvement in the stabbing of Payton "Bella" Leutner, who, incredibly, survived their savage attack. Through interviews with their parents and home video footage, we see that they both came from homes where there were few stereotypical warning signs that could have foretold or prevented their actions.
The one common denominator they share is that they were both considered to be outcasts who remedied that by finding friendship in each other. In troubling footage of the two being separately interviewed by the authorities in the hours following the crime, they both discuss how the stabbing was done to appease Slenderman, who made an impression on them when they stumbled upon the tall, shadowy, faceless figure online while browsing a website called Creepypasta Wiki.
Much time is devoted to the history and proliferation of the Slenderman myth, and while his influence undoubtedly looms large over the crime, the film could perhaps benefit from trimming some of the more redundant details of his malleable origins. While it's worthwhile to learn how the character struck a chord for being both a sinister figure and somewhat of a protector of children, a segment that draws comparisons between Slenderman and the Pied Piper of folklore needlessly pads the running time. Elsewhere, the seemingly endless collection of fan-made videos and artwork, though illuminating and suitably creepy, eventually grows tiresome.
As the documentary follows hearings on whether the two young perpetrators will be tried as adults, it veers into increasingly complicated questions surrounding Morgan's diagnosis of schizophrenia, which she genetically inherited from her father. Suggesting that she suffers from delusions that may have been at least partially responsible for a detachment from reality that made her capable of committing the crime, there are clear indications that her culpability may ultimately be influenced by her mental health.
As her father says at one point, regarding his own struggles with seeing things that aren't there: "You know it's not real. But it smells real and it tastes real. So it's real." (HBO Documentary Films)