Beware the Slenderman Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Released by HBO Films
Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky
2016, 114 Minutes, Not Rated
Originally Aired on January 23rd, 2016
Richard Dawkins as Himself
Irene Taylor Brodsky’s documentary surrounding the brutal stabbing of a twelve-year-old by her closest friends is a balanced, arresting, and provoking journey into the reality of modern childhood. Fairly presented with exceptional compassion to the families of the accused attempted murderers, Beware the Slenderman takes you not only into the courtroom with Anissa Weier and Morgan Keyser, but into their homes, their interrogations, and their fragile young minds. With a delicate hand and a keen eye, Brodsky's documentary is already fast-tracking its way to my Best of 2017.
I knew little about this case before attending the screening; while this story made headlines when it first came out, the chatter quickly died away leaving only speculation about whether the internet was to blame for this tragedy. Both sides of that argument are still valid and hotly debated: We can’t say with certainly that lonely, awkward children are harmed by finding companionship and community online, but we can see that the same children are exposed to bullying and predators they would not otherwise have in the “real” world. And in both cases, we can’t undo the technological leaps forward that have permanently changed life on this planet. This is how life is now and will be for the foreseeable future.
What is so compelling about Brodsky’s presentation is that she demonizes no one yet relentlessly pursues the truth no matter how painful. During a particularly overwhelming interview with Anissa’s father Bill, DP Nick Midwig maintains a steady focus on his breaking heart as he struggles to maintain a positive outlook for not only Anissa’s younger brother, but for the daughter he can only see through bars and safety glass. While it may sound like sympathy lies with Anissa, Bill Weier makes no pretense that victim Peyton “Bella” Leutner is the one who suffered in the hospital for seven days and to this day must cope with the betrayal she faced that day in the woods.
The list of analysts and theorists brought to testify for the documentary is impressive; even Richard Dawkins makes an appearance to explain how quickly a viral meme can become a true virus of the mind for someone who genuinely wants to believe it. There are no speakers that testify that exposure to the internet was the cause of the girls’ actions; which I argue is absolutely appropriate after the ludicrous witch hunts the US has engaged in believing rock music caused Satanic infant sacrifice and that vaccines that saved millions of lives are now blamed for autism despite absolute proof there is no correlation. Brodsky gives no platform for finger-pointing, forcing us to truly look at both the girls and the victim as human beings with pasts, motives, and pain.
I’d like to shy away from detailing all you will learn watching this documentary, but know that you will learn the truth. And with that truth comes no answers. There is no bias, no condemnation, and no solution to the perfect storm that led these girls to make a choice that changed their lives beyond recognition. In her brilliant refusal to take a side, Brodsky leaves the deliberation up to the now-fully-informed viewer. We are left to wonder: where do we go from here?
That last question is, in a way, answered by the last frame of the film. The patch of woods in Waukesha, Wisconsin where the crime occurred has been bulldozed and paved. When we can find no person to blame, we remove the place where it happened. I wonder what we will do when we run out of places to wipe away.
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