Call me mentally severed, but I love the horror genre. I tell people that I like scary movies and my wife likes romcoms which mean we both love punishing ourselves and crying at the end of movies but prefer different avenues to do it. So when I saw that HBO had released a documentary on the psychological effects of the Slenderman and other Creepypastas (online urban legends) I was hooked. To curb the sleepless late night effects, I invited a couple of my closest friends, brewed some coffee, and apologized for the next couple of hours that were about to take place.

I even talked my wife into it. Watching her expressions throughout the film would be just as entertaining as going to Disney World.

Technology and Storytelling. In Beware the Slenderman, the story begins by introducing two girls that stabbed their friend after a birthday party. They claimed that Slenderman told them to do it and that they wanted to be one of his “proxies,” which strangely is described as a disciple. On the surface, this conversation appears to be yet another negative repercussion of violent media on the adolescent mind. My mind goes back to the progression of horror and violence on screen in the past 30 years. We’ve already seen figures of Freddy Krueger, Jason, and Michael Myers-what makes technology today more abusive to a younger mind? I turn to my wife and tell her that this is going to become even more of an issue with VR and immersive media. As people become more invested emotionally and physically in these story lines the more it becomes real. For these two girls, the message of Slenderman had become iconic on internet posts, Youtube videos, video games, and more. At the age of not even knowing that Santa is real, how do you expect young persons to decipher that what they see in movies, and photoshopped in Youtube videos aren’t?

At this point in the documentary, my wife just stares at her phone and realizes that there are certain images that you can’t erase. Lucky for me, I’m not as smart. The friends I invited over are staying strong. I’m proud.

Monsters and Guardians. Next, comes my favorite part of the movie. Psychoanalysts and therapists deconstruct urban legends, monster lore, and the reason we tell them. Monsters may take on many forms and serve several different means. In the case of Jekel and Hyde, the dwelling theme is that there is contamination within ourselves that we attempt to hide. When we read the tales of monsters such as this, they often serve a psychological purpose. For Mr. Hyde, a monster is hidden within, where we hope no one else can venture. For Slenderman, he is claimed to be a guardian of children by some. But like a really, really, really messed up guardian of children. Some find him as a kidnapper/murderer of children, much like the traditional Brothers Grimm tales of the Pied Piper and Peter Pan. Depending on who is telling the story and for what motive, they are either saviors or kidnappers. For the two girls in the documentary, it’s becoming clear that this is more than just a warning piece about harmful media.

Everyone is beginning to realize that these two girls were searching for a place to fit in and feel safe. There are children out there like this. They are looking to Slenderman and mythical figures to feel belonging.

Religion and Community. As the psychoanalysts dig deeper into the history of these two girls, it appears that more is going on than just the tainting of media and violence. They latch onto these stories of Slenderman and other Creepypasta tales and use them for hope and inclusion. They are alone, rarely have friends, yet these “demons” promise a place in which they can belong and become their “proxies.” They are looking for a religion of some sort or community where they can fit in and be accepted. Their culture and schools are giving them prerequisites prior to belonging. First, you need to behave and believe, and then you can be one of us. It amazes me that creatures have to be made up (if you think that Slenderman is real, comment bellow and I’d love to go Slenderman sighting with you) to compensate for the lack of family, friends, and community.

The TV fades to black and a misty tone fills the air. We sat there and began to talk about God and the impact the church should have on those looking to be included and wanted. Who knew Slenderman would make such a good study piece on this?

Creating a place. After watching two hours of the history and impacts of Creepypastas and the incarceration of the two young girls, the scene in my living room was a tad somber. As it reached 11 o’clock at night we began to discuss how church must become a culture of inclusion that guards the sanctity of family. Instead of the prerequisites, we must give people a sense of belonging. People are literally creating demons to stand in the place of where our communities are absent. Let’s be a better church, a better community, and a better family.