Why Always Watching Is the Best Slender Man Movie – CBR – Comic Book Resources

Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story stands head and shoulders above other cinematic attempts to tackle the Slender Man mythos.
While the popularity of the internet urban legend known as the Slender Man is not what it once was, the impact the character has had on the online horror community can not be understated. The height of the Slender Man phenomenon around the early 2010s was truly a fascinating time and something that really only could have come about thanks to the internet. That's why it's disappointing — if incredibly unsurprising — that the character's more mainstream exploits have severely underwhelmed.
When most people hear the phrase "Slender Man movie," they're likely to think of either the soulless 2018 Sony Pictures movie known simply as Slender Man or the exploitative 2017 HBO documentary Beware the Slenderman. However, there is a Slender Man movie out there that is actually worth watching. And, fittingly, it's based on the work of those who first proved that the Slender Man mythos could work in video form.
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Inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, the Slender Man was originally created by Eric "Victor Surge" Knudsen in 2009 as part of a Photoshop contest on the Something Awful forums. Often depicted as a tall, pale-skinned, faceless man wearing a black business suit, the Slender Man gained infamy as a supposed supernatural figure that would stalk, abduct or otherwise traumatize people, as well as alter their personality so as to be more erratic and violent. After Knudsen's original posts, other users took it upon themselves to flesh out the Slender Man mythos, creating additional images, stories and even audio recordings. The first audiovisual depiction of the Slender Man came in the acclaimed YouTube series Marble Hornets, which debuted on June 20, 2009 — two years before the popular PC game Slender caused the Slender Man to explode in popularity.
Starring the filmmaking trio of Troy Wagner, Joseph DeLage III and Tim Sutton, Marble Hornets follows Jay Merrick (Wagner), who begins uploading video footage left behind by his old college friend, Alex Kralie (DeLage). Alex had been making a student film titled Marble Hornets, but he abruptly dropped the project. While combing through the footage, Jay discovers that Alex was followed by a mysterious entity known as The Operator (the series' version of the Slender Man). The wild card in all this is Tim Wright (Sutton), an actor in Alex's movie who is more closely connected to this mystery than he initially lets on.
The story of Marble Hornets was told across over 90 videos on the main channel and close to 40 videos on the supplementary "totheark" channel, which were split into three seasons. Marble Hornets concluded on June 20, 2014 — five years to the day after it began. But the franchise wasn't through just yet.
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In 2015, a film adaptation of Marble Hornets was released, titled Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story. Directed by James Moran from a screenplay by Ian Shorr, Always Watching premiered on video-on-demand on April 7, 2015, before getting a limited theatrical release on May 15, 2015. The film tells a new, standalone story set within the Marble Hornets universe, with none other than the legendary Doug Jones stepping into the role of The Operator.
Like Marble Hornets, Always Watching is a found-footage film in the vein of The Blair Witch Project. The movie centers on Milo Burns (Chris Marquette), a member of a news crew who begins investigating the disappearance of a man named Dan Wittlocke (Michael Bunin) with his co-workers, Charlie (Jake McDorman) and Sara (Alexandra Breckenridge). It soon becomes apparent that Dan had found himself in The Operator's crosshairs, and Milo and Co. have been marked as the supernatural entity's next targets.
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Admittedly, Always Watching is not universally beloved by the Marble Hornets faithful, mostly due to its self-contained nature. The film is set in the same universe as the series, though it has no direct ties to it apart from The Operator itself and some easy-to-miss Easter eggs. However, Always Watching being self-contained works in the film's favor for a number of reasons.
As a standalone film set in the same universe, Always Watching enriches the world of Marble Hornets, giving established fans new lore to chew on by showing that The Operator's horrifying machinations went well beyond what Jay and the gang experienced. At the same time, though, you don't have to have seen Marble Hornets to understand Always Watching, meaning there's no barrier to entry for newcomers who just want to watch a Slender Man movie.
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Always Watching is also just a genuinely incredibly visceral found-footage supernatural horror film. Like Marble Hornets, the film leans into the Slender Man's Lovecraftian origins, following a cast of characters who are helpless to fight back as they become the playthings of an eldritch being they cannot even begin to comprehend, losing their grip on sanity in the process. Both the series and the movie have an overarching sense of tragic futility that makes them chilling but engaging.
Granted, Always Watching is far from perfect. It occasionally falls back on some overused tropes, Doug Jones is fairly wasted in the villainous role, and the film doesn't quite recapture the magic that made Marble Hornets so special in its heyday. In fact, if one has eight-plus hours to commit to it, Marble Hornets is easily the better choice. But for a 90-minute glimpse into that world, Always Watching is perfectly serviceable — and it still stands head and shoulders above the other major attempts at a Slender Man feature.
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Always Watching, if nothing else, is cut from the same cloth as Marble Hornets, which was made out of love for internet horror. In contrast, Sony's Slender Man from 2018 is a Hollywood schlockfest that is woefully and blatantly out of touch with the online culture that allowed the faceless entity to become a horror icon in the first place. Meanwhile, HBO's Beware the Slenderman is just disgusting.
The documentary presents itself as a true crime piece examining the near-fatal "Slender Man stabbing" that took place in Wisconsin in 2014. In reality, though, it exploits this tragedy for no other reason than to push the outdated agenda of "the internet and technology are bad" while ignoring relevant issues like untreated mental illness and inattentive parenting. It's no different than those who try to blame video games and heavy metal music for real-life violence. In other words, if you want to watch a Slender Man movie that understands the mythos and doesn't try to push a tired agenda, the choice is pretty clear.
Noah E. Dominguez is a news editor at Comic Book Resources who joined the site as a news writer in the summer of 2018. He even writes features on occasion. He has also written for sites like WhatCulture and Gaming Access Weekly (formerly Gamer Assault Weekly), and holds a degree in mass communication. What will he do next? Stay tuned. You can follow him on Twitter at @NoahDominguez_

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