Keep These 4 Things in Mind Before Watching the 'Slender Man' Movie

Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Sarah Schuster, The Mighty’s mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

Slender Man is in the news again. Not because of the real-life Slender Man case, in which two 12-year-old girls, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, said they were influenced by the fictional horror character when they stabbed another 12-year-old in Waukesha, Wisconsin. No, Slender Man is in the news again because of a newly released trailer for the horror movie, “Slender Man.”

Slender Man is, in essence, a fictional tall, faceless man who abducts children. A well-known figure in horror stories across the internet, he became a household name following the real-life crime. Last month, more than three years following the stabbing, Weier was sentenced to 25 years in a psychiatric hospital. Geyser will be sentenced in February.

From what we know about the film so far, the plot strays from real-life events, but the attempted murder is so tied to the Slender Man story, it’s difficult to separate the two.

Whether you plan on seeing the movie in May or watched the trailer because it popped up in your newsfeed, here are four things you should remember.

1. Slender Man is fictional, but the Slender Man case is real.

It’s easy to list the attempted murder case as just another footnote as to how Slender Man came to be. But this part of the “legend” involves two very real young girls — one of whom has been diagnosed with early onset schizophrenia. In the age of sensationalized news coverage and true crime documentaries (there was actually a documentary made about the attempted murder), it’s easy to see the case itself as entertainment. While a horror movie is made for entertainment, we shouldn’t treat the case as if its the same. It involves real people, a real victim, and it’s disrespectful to frame a horror movie around such a tragedy. When you’re talking about the movie, have fun, but leave the young girls out of it. Separate fact from fiction.

2. What happens in horror movies does not represent someone’s experience with psychosis.

Even if it seems like some characters in “Slender Man” are “delusional,” remember this fictional representation does not represent what it’s like to experience psychosis. Not all symptoms of psychosis look the same — there are hallucinations, meaning the person sees or hears things that aren’t there, and there are also delusions, strong beliefs not based in reality. While we don’t know exactly what was going through the girls’ minds at the time, it’s important to remember experiencing psychosis alone is not a risk factor in predicting who becomes violent.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 100,000 young people experience psychosis each year, and as many as three in 100 people will have an episode at some point in their lives. Not everyone who “hears voices” meets the criteria for schizophrenia or another mental illness. Don’t get your knowledge about mental illness from a horror movie, and pay attention to the nuances of the actual case because you make assumptions about psychosis.

3. What they did was horrible, but the girls are human — not actors in a movie.

Regardless of the fictional characters featured in the movie are portrayed — whether they are treated as victims or act like they have “gone crazy” — a horror film does not represent what really happened in 2014. We can’t conflate what happens in the movie with the experience of these two girls. With such poor representation of mental illness in horror films, we have to be careful when fiction reminds of reality, and not let it alter our perception of real-life events.

4. The father of one of the girls involved in the real case has spoken out, calling the movie “extremely distasteful.”

Weier’s father, Bill Weier, told the Associated Press this week that he hopes local theaters won’t show the movie. Why? Because for him, the effects of “Slender Man” are not fictional. What his daughter did is not fictional. He said:

It’s absurd they want to make a movie like this. It’s popularizing a tragedy is what it’s doing. I’m not surprised but in my opinion it’s extremely distasteful. All we’re doing is extending the pain all three of these families have gone through.

When someone commits an act of violence, it’s easy to dehumanize them or forget that tragedies like this affect real families. While Slender Man is not real, this man’s story, and the story of the other young people involved whose lives are changed forever, is.

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