Saturday, 1 September 2018


Starring: Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair
Writer: David Birke
Director: Sylvain White

Four teenage friends interested in the urban legend of the Slender Man decide to participate in a ritual which will supposedly summon him. A week later, one of them disappears and it becomes apparent that she wanted the Slender Man to take her, leaving the remaining three with the task of somehow getting her back...

To say Slender Man was a troubled production is probably something of an understatement. With its featured mythical character previously cited as the motivation for a particularly brutal stabbing committed by two 12-year-old girls in Wisconsin, maybe it wasn't the greatest idea to push on with the movie it but here it is, sneaking out almost apologetically with few trailers, scant publicity and reports of a studio who had shown little or no support for the project.

To add to this, Screen Gems had insisted on a lower, more teen-friendly rating for the movie, the original script underwent radical changes and several scenes were removed over fear of viewer backlash had they been left in the completed product. Is there any way that the movie could somehow transcend all of these things and end up being surprisingly brilliant?

Absolutely not is the short answer.

Slender Man is a total mess from start to finish. The changes to the story are also writ large upon the screen as plot threads are picked up and then dropped unceremoniously, characters - even major ones - drift in and out of the proceedings seemingly at random and the tone is uncertain throughout. The dialogue is often dreadful, most of it being of the type that would only ever be said by teenagers in a movie. 

The powers of the Slender Man are dealt with somewhat inconsistently, setting him up as an entity who can bend reality and take whoever has invoked a connection with him but then having him not do that very thing on several occasions where he quite easily could have. He's unstoppable but this only seems to apply to those moments where the plot requires him to be.

Worse still, it's not scary in the slightest. The Slender Man himself may be an interesting creation but he doesn't generate the necessary dread and the film relies instead on a tiresome series of mechanical jump scares which even the most casual horror fan will consider hackneyed.

Visually it's one of the least inspiring fright flicks of late, its washed-out palette never catching the eye. Even the Slender Man's forest domain, with its tentacle-style branches, comes over as something that's been done before, many times, in much more impressive fashion. Elsewhere, the by-the-numbers camerawork doesn't immerse the viewer in the situation one little bit.

The performances are.....well, you know what? The performances are actually the best thing about this whole sorry business. Despite the utterly inane lines they're saddled with for most of the running time, Slender Man's young leads are all rather watchable, Julia Goldani Telles being the pick of the bunch.

Flat, suspenseless and remarkably dull, Slender Man makes 93 minutes feel like an eternity and for me it's the worst mainstream horror release in a very long time. Its talented cast deserves so much better. Chances of this film getting a sequel? Slender, I think.


Starring: Colin Woodell, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel
Writer: Stephen Susco
Director: Stephen Susco

After an amusing opening sequence in which an unseen user attempts to log in to a computer with a series of passwords - some all too familiar, some obscurely rude - we then see the webcam become active and discover said user is Matias (Woodell) who is glad that his new laptop is way better than the previous "piece of crap" he had, mostly because he can continue working on an app he's been developing which will help him communicate better with deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras).

Setting up a game night (which was apparently the working title of this flick and I'm guessing was ditched when the Bateman/McAdams comedy/thriller of the same name got there first) on Skype with a group of his friends, Matias is also trying to smooth things out with Amaya as their relationship has hit a rocky patch partly because he isn't really committing to learning sign language.

Things, however, are going to get a lot whole worse than a potential break-up when Matias starts to receive strange messages directed at the previous owner of the laptop and it's not long before the previous owner of the laptop themselves gets in touch to say that it was stolen from them and they really want it back. Now don't you go hunting around that hard drive, Matias...whoops, too late...

I'm not going to give any more away of Dark Web because it heads off in some creepy and interesting directions which may not exactly be groundbreaking in terms of the horror genre but provide some solid chills and a couple of satisfying twists as Matias, his friends and even Amaya inevitably find themselves in danger.

The format is very much that of the original Unfriended, with Messenger conversations aplenty and characters appearing on - and occasionally disappearing from - video chat screens. There's buffering - referred to at one point as "the beach ball of death" - as the technology grinds to a halt, image resolutions break down, there's handy interference which obscures potentially awful things which may or may not be about to happen. In short, the usual ticks and tropes of social media which were exploited fairly well by the original movie.

Dark Web uses all of the above but also layers in an old school bulletin board which has a background animation straight from a level of the first release of Doom and then heads to the other end of the tech spectrum by including a subplot about a cryptocurrency account. These touches are smart without being smart-arsed.

Director (and writer) Stephen Susco is confident enough in the material not to play it for cheap scares, choosing instead to build the suspense slowly and carefully so that by act three the tension has ratcheted up to a genuinely impressive level. Placing each of the characters in their own window heightens the claustrophobia, as well as giving us just enough of their surroundings in the background to familiarise ourselves with their locations but not quite enough to see what might be lurking outside the view of the webcam.

It's probably not too much of a spoiler to reveal that people die in this one. And without reverting to gratuitous gore, what cruel, nasty deaths they are, ushered in by means of a hacked history of the poor victim's online highlights before their fate is engineered in a suitably awful manner. This both sets up the viewer for the kill scene and sets them on edge as to how it will play out.

Assured and accomplished, Unfriended: Dark Web may not ultimately trouble anyone's all-time list of horror highs but it delivers its chills in an efficient, enjoyable, entertaining manner and has no qualms about dispatching characters it's taken the trouble to make you care about. Definitely worth making the connection.