The Mighty Logo

How the 'Slender Man' Movie Will Profit From Real-Life Tragedy

If my daughter were almost stabbed to death and still living with the repercussions, I’d be pretty upset about the fictional horror movie inspired by that tragedy debuting next week.

I’d be extremely upset that a voiceover about a young girl disappearing was being used to advertise it in the trailer.

I would be confused about how a group of people could get together and fetishize such a horrific event.

And yet, on August 10, we’re getting “Slender Man.”

For those who don’t know, “Slender Man” is a character that has gone viral in many places on the internet. Then, two teenage girls in Wisconsin, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, took another teenage girl named Payton Leutner out to the woods and stabbed her nearly to death to “please this character.” A fictional character.

Payton miraculously survived after crawling onto a bike path, and the two teens who attacked her were sentenced to time in psychiatric hospitals. One of the girls has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

I really wish I could stop there.

Being a horror movie fan is an occurrence that happened in recent years. The more I started to talk about my own traumatic experiences on and after surviving 9/11 after my memoir came out, the more I started to look for an escape that could pull me out of the day to day, and being years sober eliminated any injecting of things that could alter my mood or mind. I went from being scared of everything to virtually un-scare-able, then disappointed, then merely hopeful when it came to horror movie viewings. I became more of a critic.

Then I saw that “Slender Man” was going to be a movie, and I immediately thought of that girl and her family.

She was the same age I was, 12,  on 9/11 when we were attacked when she was attacked.

The creator of this “Slender Man” told NBC years ago that these events made him deeply sad. So sad, I suppose, that he sold the rights — I’m assuming, since that’s how entertainment works — of his concept to the movie studio putting this movie forth. The horror movie world is starved for creative ideas. We did not need to turn “Slender Man” into one of them. It’s literally a faceless figure that looks like a tall stick-like alien. Although the plot isn’t strictly based on what happened, the movie was no doubt inspired by the real-life case. Bill Weier, the father of one of the girls involved in the stabbing, told the Associated Press,

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.

Payton — the young girl who was stabbed — is still suffering from severe duress, anxiety, fear, emotional trauma and insecurity, as her mother said in a statement.  Just like I was after 9/11, Payton was afraid to sleep in her own bed. She started sleeping with scissors under her pillow.

Imagine seeing movie posters, trailers and commercials everywhere you went for this movie. You would nurse your invisible scars and feel god knows what at the world, and at the very least, the people who all banded together to make this movie.

Let’s talk about the handful of movies made about 9/11. Watching “United 93,”
which I saw at the movie theater across the street from what was then still Ground Zero, and two blocks from the school I was in that day, a 10 to 15 minute walk from home, in 2006, was a huge mistake. But it was a well-made film, looking back on it. I wouldn’t watch it again, but it paid homage to heroes and made you feel what they felt in real time.

There was purpose in that movie. Though many survivors and Americans in general have avoided it — as I probably should have — it’s educational, it’s honorable, it’s memorable. I have absolutely no comment on Hulu’s “Looming Tower because I can’t even bring myself to look at the main photo without feeling sick.

But these movies, along with “World Trade Center,” which followed the
story of two men trapped in the wreckage for days before being rescued, are
meant to teach us something.

Fetishizing and creating horror movie fantasy about a character who had a real following with clearly dangerous implications is irresponsible, and it’s the kind of “based on a true story” that isn’t supernatural, it’s human tragedy.

It’s deranged.

From the looks of the trailer, we’ve got teen self-harm, suicide and self-mutilation going on here, as well as any number of mental health issues. Of course, as with most horror movies, they’re undoubtedly dealt with irresponsibly.

This girl’s life is forever altered, and instead of having respect for her experience, it’s being made into a movie, one of the few places we can go to safely escape from the anxiety and weight of our real-world problems for just a while.

This article, the one you’re reading now, is not by any means a reported news story on how the family does or does not feel about the film’s release, about what the movie studio and the creator of “Slender Man” have or have not done or said or thought. I have no way of knowing that. What I do know is that I’m sitting here looking at the Freedom Tower and thinking about how I felt when the news coverage after the 9/11 attacks was on an endless loop, and what it did to me when scenes of buildings exploding in the very same way were featured in films like “Superman” or “Spider Man” for years after.

I’m thinking about how it would feel to have an experience based solely on something that happened only to me — not something that affected hundreds of thousands of people — and thinking that if Payton and her family are reading this, I hope that they know someone out there is thinking about how they must feel, and wishing their daughter a continued healthy recovery.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home