Viral monster story goes horribly wrong in unsettling new documentary

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Nov 14, 2016, 1:19 PM EST (Updated)

HBO has unveiled a trailer for Beware the Slenderman, in which a frightening online legend has unspeakable real-life consequences.

The documentary revolves around a disturbing 2014 crime in which two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls allegedly stabbed a classmate (who survived) 19 times. When questioned, the two children said that they attempted to murder their victim in order to become acolytes of a spectral monster known as Slenderman or Slender Man, who they also said was going to slaughter their families if they did not kill their friend.

But Slenderman, as you might expect, does not exist in the real world. The invention of an Internet user named Eric Knudsen (who appeared online under the name Victor Surge), Slenderman was first seen in several photos that Knudsen had doctored and posted on a forum called Something Awful.

The photos claimed to be of real children who had later vanished, and each picture featured the ominous presence of an abnormally thin, tall figure dressed in black with a blank face. Slenderman was born and became a viral phenomenon, the subject of numerous web series, videos and games (not to mention a movie in development) -- until the 2012 Wisconsin incident and others like it made it clear that some online users thought the eerie boogeyman was real.

The documentary explores the origin and history of this fictional apparition, how and why his mythology became so popular and why people began to believe he was real. It also covers the developing trial of  the two girls, who may be tried as adults and could be looking at jail terms of 65 years each.

The film, directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky, also explores the subject of online media and how (from a Variety review) "letting kids spend umpteen hours interacting with the virtual rather than real world can reap results from the mildly antisocial to the homicidally delusional.”

Beware the Slenderman premieres on HBO on Jan. 23, 2017. Do you think spending a lot of time online and poking around some of the darker content on the Web can have a dangerous effect on people, especially children?

(via Slashfilm)