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This one’s worth checking out.

Day 1: My sanity is withering

“Day 1: Alone. My sanity is withering”

I don’t know how I could miss the release date for this movie. As a long-time fan of the Slender Man mythos and the wonderfully spooky 2009 vlog series based around it, Marble Hornets, I was of course stoked to hear that none other than Doug Jones, a 100% flawless contender for a potential big screen version of old Slendy, had been cast for that exact role in an honest-to-God feature-length adaptation of the very series that turned him into a universal nightmare amongst many an Internet user. And thankfully not the mediocre video game that instead turned him into an overused meme and unfunny joke (Thanks for another contribution to society, PewDiePie).

The Slender Man - or rather,

The Slender Man – or rather, “The Operator”.

The movie in question was released on VOD in April and can currently be seen in select theatres, mainly in America. Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story is the finished film’s title and the creators of the original YouTube series were involved in its production although they do not reprise their acting roles, nor do versions of their characters appear. Instead the film, besides Doug Jones, features such names as Alexandra Holden, Jake McDorman, Chris Marquette and Alexandra Breckenridge of American Horror Story fame as new characters from the same universe. Like the original series, the film employs the found-footage shtick to tell its story, a choice which is more excusable and plot-significant here than in such horror films as Paranormal Activity (kinda-sorta) Five and Project X.

For starters, the film focuses on a news team on the hunt for a juicy story, so their cameras are often running. They initially follow a crew that clears out abandoned houses in a suburb when they happen across a house where all the possessions of the previous owners are still in place. These possessions include a collection of DV tapes which the team tactfully decides to investigate, only to find that the footage on them is out of the norm and shows a family being stalked and apparently driven insane by a tall, faceless, sharp-dressed humanoid with seemingly reality-defying abilities – it’s referred to as “The Operator” both here and in the source material.

As they try to figure out what any of it means, one of them soon finds a similar figure appearing on his cameras as well, and he immediately starts documenting his findings to try to solve the mystery before paranoia and possible insanity get the better of him.

This is another way the use of the found-footage routine becomes important. It reiterates a rule used by several versions of the mythos which states that the Slender Man can make himself invisible to the human eye, but will still be seen if viewed through a video camera; even if his presence makes the image distorted and could potentially damage the camera itself.

marbel hornies

Always Watching is a film that was brought into being by a match made in Heaven. I’ve always been a fan of Doug Jones and ever since I saw him portray The Gentlemen on Buffy, I knew he’d be a perfect Slender Man one day and the fact that this dream of mine was made a reality by the people behind one of my favourite YouTube shows makes it all the better. At least I’m fairly certain that it was Jones’ surprising love towards the original series that sparked the idea to make a movie. Either way, I liked the idea and now I get to tell you how I liked the outcome.

Mostly, the film gets it right. The found-footage gimmick is utilized in a way that helps create atmosphere and an escalating sense of paranoia, which isn’t rudely interrupted by the type of fake-out pop scares you’d see in a lesser horror movie like Paranormal Activity 4. The set-up that the main character has in his living room, with surveilance footage being screened from two differnet cameras via both a projector and a TV screen, allow for some insanely cool shots and add to the spook factor when said shots involve Slendy.

It also helps that we get an intriguingly scary opening scene and aren’t forced to wait for the film to even offer a hint of what the danger’s going to be. And when the time does arrive to provide faster and more energetic thrills, it is sure to evoke a more than satisfying sense of panic and, in a manner that often made me think of Slender vlogs like TribeTwelve, bring you close enough to the action that (as is the core intention of the found-footage gimmick) you’re made to feel as though you’re there amongst the characters, taking a part in their nightmarish ordeal. The director, James Moran, has a history with the found-footage genre via films like Quarantine and, indeed, some Paranormal Activity movies. This is his directional debut and no doubt a better film.

Obviously it wouldn’t work nearly as well without some solid performances, of which the film has enough to maintain your immersion. The actors nail the film’s lighter and more humorous moments – a Cloverfield-esque party scene near the beginning of the movie comes to mind – and do at least equally well when things get serious. I’ve read criticisms that they aren’t majorly interesting as people, but I felt for them all the same.

Our heroes.

Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen. Left to right: Sara, Milo, and Charlie.

If I were to make a few complaints, it would be that the film never quite reaches the same spook factor as the original series and that Slender Man himself could probably have been in it slightly more. It also doesn’t do anything particularly astounding in terms of horror aside from avoiding the more irritating clichés and really, it isn’t vague enough about the motives of its main villain or the way it works, which is sometimes even inaccurate to the actual mythos. Also, the bloke played by Chris Marquette is a worse stalker than Slendy and I am unsure what an astronomical über babe like Alexandra Breckenridge sees in him. Or why I felt sorry for him when McDorman’s much cooler and more silver-tongued character started putting the moves on her. I thought I hated love triangles?

In the end, I’m awarding Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story a 3.5/5. With an escalatingly unsettling tone, mostly enjoyable characters, and jump scares that actually work, it only falls somewhat short of genuine mystique and plot originality. Even so, I’m glad my man Slendy finally got some semblance of a movie. It’s a great deal better than The Tall Man and yes, I will more than gladly fight you on that.

Also, fun fact: the intended release year for this film was, I believe, 2013, but the production was halted by multiple cases of youth violence that allegedly had some indirect relation to the Slender Man mythos. 6 years since his original inception and old Slendy still knows how to drive ’em bonkers. What a guy.

3.5/5 whatever

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