The original Ring (1998) consolidated a new offshoot of the horror genre by having its malevolent spirit be conveyed through telephone messages and a TV. It was technology that hosted the enemy. More recently, the fiendishly clever and unsettling Unfriended (2015) built on that theme, with weird cyberspace as the protagonist – or, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the medium was now the master. Here we have four teenage girls log on to a site that tells them about a phenomenon known as ‘slender man’, a mythical personage responsible for the disappearance of countless girls over the ages. They follow the prompts as instructed and, sure enough, one of them soon vanishes. Potential is there for a decent story, but it is smashed by an early and incessant deluge of cheap shots and overblown frighteners. Perhaps it’s because director Sylvain White’s background is mostly in television, where precision and brevity is of the essence, but you are just not allowed the tension build-up required to get really scared – and why else are you there? In hindsight, however, this might be exactly what White’s audience, addicted to instant gratification, wants anyway. Character development is non-existent and the whole point of the Slender Man’s existence is never really clear. Every five minutes or so, there is an incident meant to shock, but such regular jolts lead to a sense of heavy ennui. There are also far too many scenes in which you are meant to believe something is really happening until the potential victim wakes hysterical from a dream – which is the oldest trick in the book. Almost as hackneyed is the obligatory walk at night through the misty pine forest – and there is more than just one of that chestnut. If, as is suggested by the voice-over at the end, the movie is meant to be a cautionary tale intended to un-glue kids from their laptops, only a fool might think that it would anything other than counter-productive. Well executed, but dead boring, with far too much screaming.
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