Horror films are a standard in Hollywood’s portfolio, but the real horror in the latest film “Slender Man” is the exploitation of an unspeakable tragedy for the sake of a few dollars.
Sony broke ethics on Aug. 10, 2018, when it released “Slender Man,” a horror film based on viral photo-shopped images and fan fiction, known as creepypasta, of a long, faceless, tentacled figure in a suit. But the image and the legends created by internet users first reached the public eye in 2014, when two middle school girls stabbed a classmate as some form of demonic tribute to Slender Man.
In what appeared to be a horrifying ending to a truly horrifying tale, Screen Gems, a subset of Sony, picked up the concept of Slender Man and turned it into a film. Critics typically downplay horror films, and the film was not well received, with a score of 13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The Hollywood Reporter called it “boring” and “devoid of personality.” But in terms of finance, “Slender Man” was a success. According to Variety, the film was set to make around $10 million last weekend, putting it in third place at the box office.
A nice paycheck for a living nightmare that afflicted at least three families. In May 2014, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, both aged 12, lured Payton Leutner, also aged 12, out to the woods, where they stabbed her 19 times and left her for dead. Payton had to crawl to a nearby road where a cyclist stopped to help her. After the attack, Payton’s mother, Stacie, said Payton was “terrified and crying” in the hospital trauma room.
“I could see that she was covered — her arms and her legs and her abdomen — they were covered in stab wounds,” she told 20/20 in 2014. Payton bears the scars of the attack to this day.
Geyser and Weier were sentenced to 40 and 25 years in a mental health institution, respectively. The Daily Mail reported that Geyser, sentenced at the age of 15, wept with her head on the desk while she received the verdict. Both she and her lawyers pleaded for her release into her parents’ care.
A psychiatrist testified that Geyser was an “empathic, kind, compassionate and bright young woman who is very remorseful about what has taken place.” Geyser was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was given a longer sentence than Weier because of the intensity of her disorder.
Bill Weier, Weier’s father, complained when the film was announced and a petition was made to halt the release of the film. More than 21,000 people signed it. Weier told the Chicago Sun Times: “All we’re doing is extending the pain all three of these families have gone through.”
In Milwaukee, Marcus Theaters decided not to show the movie in any of their theaters. Ann Stadler, vice president of Marcus Theaters, gave a statement to the Chicago Sun Times explaining their decision: “Like many people across the United States, Marcus Theatres was deeply concerned and saddened when the Slender Man phenomenon touched southeastern Wisconsin in such a profound way, changing the lives of many families forever. After careful consideration, and out of respect for those who were impacted, we have decided not to play the upcoming ‘Slender Man’ movie in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.”
Rather than allowing the victim and the families affected to heal emotionally, physically, and spiritually, by leaving the victim and this gruesome story alone, Hollywood chose to monetize this tragedy and provide a perennial reminder to the victim of the incident that altered her life completely. While Hollywood often turns real-life tragedies into films or documentaries, it has only been four years since the attack, and not even a year since the case was resolved. The victim is still suffering the effects of the attack.
In the general media frenzy that surrounds bizarre tragedies like this, Sony picked up the rights to the creepypasta and announced a film to come from it. While the studio Screen Gems stated that the film is “based on an original fictional character that became a viral internet sensation … and is in no way a dramatization of any real-life events,” it is still too similar to be mere coincidence.
USA Today noted that from the trailer, a wall is covered with drawings “that resemble sketches Geyser drew.” Other scenes include Slender Man, a tall creepy figure, following a girl into the woods.
In a victim impact statement, Payton’s mother wrote that her daughter “slept with scissors under her pillow” and had to live with 25 scars that covered her body. Payton was so traumatized that she could not even testify at her attackers’ hearings. And Hollywood reaped $10 million from the concept that inspired her attack.