After my interview with Adam Rosner, the creator of the ARG TribeTwelve (see here), he mentioned that the HBO documentary Beware the Slenderman, took some footage from his series TribeTwelve and from Marble Hornets. Interested, I finally sat down to watch the film and was appalled not only by the blatant artistic theft, but also how the material was used. Ultimately though, I was most surprised by the choice to include this footage in the telling of the real life attempted murder of Payton Leutner in 2014.
Beware the Slenderman follows the families of Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, Payton’s friends who carried out the attempted stabbing to, in their words, appease Slenderman so they could live in the Slender mansion located in Nicolet National Forest. Slenderman is an urban legend-type figure that has a mysterious backstory, but if you really want to know more about it see here. This case gets very complicated, as Anissa and Morgan not only proclaimed that they wanted to live with Slenderman in his mansion, they also wanted to kill their friend so Slenderman wouldn’t kill their families. They wanted to be proxies for him and they wanted to prove that he was real.
The film takes place after Anissa and Morgan are arrested, but before the judgement regarding whether the girls would be tried as adults. At this point, all three girls, Payton, Anissa, and Morgan were 12 years old, which puts the defendants on a blurry line between being juveniles and entering adulthood.
Beware the Slenderman follows Anissa and Morgan’s families as they grapple with the fact that their loved ones committed a heinous act. We see them wondering what they could have done to stop it, and trying to understand why it all happened. All of this takes place in the latter part of the film. But before you can get to these accounts and dissections of the events leading up to the crime, Beware the Slenderman hits you with montages of Slenderman footage and a discussion of the legend himself.
Initially, when discussing Slenderman, the film takes the angle that he provides a refuge for lonely children and through artistic depictions, he is seen as an heroic figure that will save all those from being isolated. This narrative makes sense, as some drawings from Anissa and Morgan are shown later which depict Slenderman as a caring, loving figure. It’s obvious that the girls became attached to Slenderman as a way to escape the reality that they didn’t have many friends and spent a majority of their time locked in their room browsing the Internet. They wanted something exciting, they wanted a change, and they got that in Slenderman. Couple that with undiagnosed mental illness and social isolation and you have a recipe for disaster.
Beware the Slenderman contradicts itself early on as it shows footage from TribeTwelve and Marble Hornets, which do not follow the narrative of Slenderman saving children from their lonely existence. These ARGS depict Slenderman as a terrifying tormentor, whose goal is to drive people out of their minds to do his bidding. Viewers of TribeTwelve and Marble Hornets are meant to be scared of Slenderman, not to embrace him as a savior. Also, they use the creepiest footage imaginable from TribeTwelve and Marble Hornets, I suppose to scare the s**t out of parents, in a sort of see what your children are doing moment. I mean we all know MoMo was fake, but that picture got on all the morning news channels. Despite that one being fake, real challenges do exist to encourage kids to engage in self harm, but the fixation on the fake ones shifts parental attention from the dangers of kid’s YouTube, online predators on Instagram, and all the apps your children are using to hide what they are doing on their i-Phone. But that is another story for another day. Although, seriously parents, monitor your kid’s Internet usage.
I already knew that HBO (at least concerning TribeTwelve) used this footage without consent from Adam Rosner, but then seeing how they used it was just gross. Jump scares from TribeTwelve footage are used as transitions and when the discussion of Anissa and Morgan being proxies comes up, they use a long shot of Slenderman and the collective from TribeTwelve.
Now, the footage they used is creepy, but it is also completely out of context. For instance, they use a sequence from the video Come Closer (view here) at timestamps 1:00-1:06 and 1:33-1:44. From the outside it looks like the video is telling the viewer they are corrupted. But, in the context of the story, this sequence is deliberately made for another character in TribeTwelve, not the viewer. We are just watching the story unfold. So, on top of being artistic theft, this is inherently misleading, as the film already spent significant time showing us how creepypastas are damaging our youth.
Despite the footage being used out of context and the stories of Marble Hornets and TribeTwelve not fitting into the Slenderman is a savior narrative, HBO then shows Anissa’s YouTube History. And, guess what is missing? There is absolutely no Slenderverse content at all, point blank period. Now, if there were, it would have justified HBO’s use of that footage. But there is nothing linking Anissa to TribeTwelve or Marble Hornets. So, yikes, that was artistic theft for no reason besides maybe because they can? Now, sadly, Adam Rosner and others do not have the resources to sue HBO and that is probably why they took the video clips in the first place. I even attempted to look in the credits, but there is absolutely no mention of or credit to TribeTwelve, Adam Rosner, or Marble Hornets. So, here is my attempt to shine light on this.
Overall, the real life attempted murder of Payton Leutner and the suffering and motivations of Anissa and Morgan is what really should take precedent in Beware the Slenderman, but they play second fiddle to horrifying depictions of a fictional urban legend and that to me, is the worst part.