Hot Docs 2016 Review: Beware The Slenderman

Slenderman

If you have not heard of the Slenderman at this point, trust me that your kids have. He is a tall think man in a suit usually seen looming in the background of locations where children play or blending into a sparse forest of tall trees, that came about from unconscious desires of the internet to create its own digital folklore.

The opening minutes of Beware The Slenderman promise an experience along the lines of The Blair Witch Project meets Seven. It begs the question on whether HBO contractually mandates swanky opening titles on the various properties they develop for broadcast. The former mock-doc was made famous through savvy use of the internet in building its own mythology, and the latter was a cold thriller featuring sensationally violent murders as the mission statement of warped ideology of a mysterious John Doe.

The actual content of the documentary is far more interesting than what the credit sequence (or poster) pledges. Director Irene Taylor Brodsky goes deep into the specific case of two Wisconsin preteen girls who brutally stabbed one of their friends, nearly 20 times, and left her in the woods to die of her injuries. The victim, Peyton, (somehow) survived, and the perpetrators were were caught in short order. It is one of those stories you might have heard on the news in a couple years ago, registered the shock of it, that they did this due to belief in an internet meme, and then went on about your life. Documentaries like this one serve the place of an increasingly neutered long-form print journalism in that they allow a focused look at the context and consequences, well beyond national headlines.

Featuring extensive courtroom footage, candid interviews with the family members of the accused girls, and the online origins of the crowdsourced boogieman, Beware The Slenderman, plays like bizzaro world version of Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills, the superb West Memphis Three doc released by HBO in the 1990s (followed by two sequels). In that film, three teenage boys were convicted of committing gristly murders in Arkansas, and convicted mainly on the grounds that they listened to Metallica and read books by Aleister Crowley (coupled with unreasonable coercion by the police to confess.) The questionable idea that heavy metal music and satanic books could induce impressionable teens to murder was taken seriously to the point of putting blinders on due process.

Here in 2014, via videotaped interrogations which provide the through-line for the film, Morgan and Anissa, separated, both freely admit that their belief of an internet meme made them do it. One of the key, but unspoken messages of Beware The Slenderman is that even in a case where pop culture actually did made the girls do it, the legal system is still utterly broken when it comes to youth. Deeply disturbing to a bleeding-heart-Canadian such as myself, was fact that neither of the accused 12 year olds could have any body contact with their parents during the trial period (now in its second year) and were tried by adults by a tough-on-crime Wisconsin court. No hugs. Morgan’s mother has theories, but no answers because she has been prevented from speaking to daughter since the arrest. The girls were not given phone calls. Both fathers spend much of their on-screen interviews in tears. One gives an impassioned, but pragmatic, monologue on technology, parenting, and the punishing stress of trying to move forward with any sense of normalcy.

We have no idea what kinds of lives our children live inside their heads, and increasingly, the internet allows to magnify and participate the collective imagination, in ways that the brothers Grimm (or Metallica) could never have comprehended. Morgan’s mother thinks back to the time where her daughter had no empathic reaction to the mother die while watching Bambi. It is a powerful anecdote, but one wonders if this experiment were conducted formally on hundreds of children, if Morgan’s reaction is more common than we intuit. Perhaps from a lack of media comprehension or simply the universal built-in-narcissism of those who are so very young.

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Cinecast Episode 395 – Have an Exit Strategy

The multiplex continues to bore Kurt and Andrew, who have no interest in costumed heroes or a uniformed Reese Witherspoon. So it is off to Argentina for the Oscar nominated anthology film, Wild Tales. Game of Thrones hits the half-way mark and Kurt may have finally convinced Andrew of a) just how tedious things in Meereen have gotten, b) how much Stannis Baratheon has come into his own this season, and c) the power of a good long shot.

The watch-list creates a divide in taste on music and documentary form with Brett Morgan’s Montage of Heck. The strengths and weakness of Wes Craven’s The New Nightmare are discussed, along with a tangent on lost concept over-spill resulting from sold out movies. Don’t Look Now, but there is more Nic Roeg discussion on the Cinecast. As is the case of Kevin Costner, Shawn Levy and the race to the middle(brow). Finally, Alex Gibney’s Scientology doc, Going Clear is compared and contrasted with PTA’s The Master, for dos and don’ts in filmmaking.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 

 

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True Detective Season 2 Teaser

Be prepared for more grim, angsty personal and professional portraits of cops from Nic Pizzolatto and HBO. This time, it’s Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell looking downward and determined as the music plays. Highways and drought and California nightmares. Plus, Colin Farrell in a thick moustache. I couldn’t be more in.

A bizarre murder brings together three law-enforcement officers and a career criminal, each of whom must navigate a web of conspiracy and betrayal in the scorched landscapes of California. Colin Farrell is Ray Velcoro, a compromised detective in the all-industrial City of Vinci, LA County. Vince Vaughn plays Frank Semyon, a criminal and entrepreneur in danger of losing his life’s work, while his wife and closest ally (Kelly Reilly), struggles with his choices and her own. Rachel McAdams is Ani Bezzerides, a Ventura County Sheriff’s detective often at odds with the system she serves, while Taylor Kitsch plays Paul Woodrugh, a war veteran and motorcycle cop for the California Highway Patrol who discovers a crime scene which triggers an investigation involving three law enforcement groups, multiple criminal collusions, and billions of dollars.

True Detective Season 2 begins its run June 21st.

Occultober – Day 14 – Paradise Lost 3

Paradise Lost: Purgatory
The third West Memphis 3 documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky was made in 2011. This was now 18 years after the three young children were killed and hog-tied in a ditch on the side of the road in small-town Arkansas. While the filmmakers were diligently following the legal proceedings, and coming to grips that John Mark Byers, as tantalizingly over-the-top as a suspect, was really not guilty, some DNA testing was performed and in some degree disputed the guilt of Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin of the crime.

Before another appeals trial could be put together, the state of Arkansas offered a plea deal allowing them to go free, but they had to agree to be ‘guilty’ and not further press legal charges of their own for wrongful prosecution. All of this happened just as Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory was about to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, and thus, the whole trilogy had an ending of sorts which contradicted the ‘Purgatory’ subtitle.

The third part in the chapter is more of a summation of everything to date, with apologies to John Mark Byers, and a focus on another suspect, Terry Hobbs, a different step-father one of the three murdered boys. The film is not as aggressive as the second one, and lacks focus, often is too repetitive. I do not necessarily recommend watching the trilogy in a single binge, or you will be a bit frustrated with these repetitions.

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Occultober – Day 13 – Paradise Lost 2

Paradise Lost: Revelations
The second documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky on the West Memphis Three was made seven years after the three young children were killed and hog-tied in a ditch on the side of the road. This follow-up, taking place in the middle of the lengthy legal appellate process, is one of the most emotionally powerful movies ever made. It’s power comes at the expense of any kind of objective reality, however, as the filmmakers set out to make a very strong case against one of the victims’ step-father, John Mark Byers. Cherry picking evidence, simultaneously inflating importance of things while deflating others, the filmmakers fall exactly into the trap that they accuse the community and law-enforcement in their first film, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.

Here we get to see Byers perform (apparently whacked out on mediation) for the camera. He spits fire and brimstone, give church sermons and raise holy hell against the convicted teenagers Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin. Meanwhile, Damien Echols, who got by far the most media attention of the three, has matured considerably on death-row for 6 years, and is far more articulate to the camera. Equal parts regretful of his naiveté during the original trial and grateful of the support of activists, celebrities, and others on the outside who are helping his legal team make sense of all the evidence – or lackthereof in terms of ‘reasonable doubt.’

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Occultober – Day 12 – Paradise Lost 1

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
The West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin were positive proof that the “Satanic Panic” that held 1980s America looking behind every corner for Ritual Abuse of children did not fade away completely with the end of that decade. In Arkansas in 1993 three very young boys were murdered in a grisly fashion and their bodies disposed of in a forested gully just off the highway. A year later, with the full weight of law enforcement and the local judiciary, the blame was placed on the shoulders of three other boys, themselves all under 18, with no hard evidence.

The victims were hog-tied and left in a ditch, for animals to chew on, but by the time the corpses were discovered, it certainly looked like some kind of ritualistic mutilation to the local law enforcement in need of a quick closure on the crime due to the young age of the boys. So, they grabbed a pair of kids that listened to Metallica, wore black, and occasionally checked Aleister Crowley from the library along with another that had an IQ so low, it was almost debilitating.

The resulting miscarriage of justice, botched police work, eccentric members of the community and other bits of true crime drama were captured by an HBO crew, and the appeals process went on for 17 years.

The first part in a trilogy of documentaries (more to come in this space for the next few days) is horrifying, engrossing, and illuminating all at the same time as the filmmakers become more and more involved in the trial.

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Cinecast Episode 337 – Hand on the Tiller

Another week another episode of quality TV. Quality of course being an understatement as we bask in the best television (and Matthew McConaughey) has to offer in “True Detective.” With nothing playing in the January mutliplexes, we time travel back 30 years to continue The 1984 Project. Sitting around the marijuana campfire, we lament the demise of The Doobie Brothers, drink full bottles of Jose Cuervo and bask in the Jungle and Lite-Jazz adventure that is Romancing the Stone. The Watch List this week is brief with Joe Dante and Ken Burns. And just for fun, there is a very quick Top 5 list in the mix. No time for the ol’ in and out, we’re just here to read the meter.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


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New Trailer for Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra”

This is Soderbergh so I’m already sold on seeing this last picture of his (as I’m sure many among us are). As such, I haven’t actually bothered to watch the trailer embedded below but for those that are maybe on the fence, take a gander at Michael Douglas (Liberace) and Matt Damon (Scott Thorson) doing their “way too gay for Hollywood” thing under the direction of master film maker Steven Soderbergh. I’m sure it’s very sparkly!

If you’re not already subscribed to HBO, you might want to get on that soon as Behind the Candelabra airs Sunday, May 26th at 9pm.

Super Nintendo Version of “Game of Thrones”

If you played Super Nintendo back in the day and if you have watched “Game of Thrones,” you’ll find this little video pretty fun. If you haven’t played Super Nintendo, you’re probably too young to even be reading this site and definitely too young for “Game of Thrones.” If you haven’t seen “GoT”, then A) stop reading this and go watch it and B) this video, though only 16-bit is ***SPOILER HEAVY!***

With that, onto Super Winterfell…

 

 

Cinecast Episode 213 – Broadening Your Horizons by Telling You Something You Already Know

 
 
We still have not figured out that it is the ‘summer blockbuster’ season, so instead Kurt and Andrew decide to dig into one of the big Canadian films, (nominated for best foreign language Oscar) Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies (which we keep very light on *Spoilers*). An epic ‘what we watched’ section follows. Along the way, tangents on Lars von Trier and Cannes, the two fantasy epic mini-series on cable, Tree of Life, and Jodie Foster’s Beaver. There are lots of good DVD and Netflix picks to round out the show.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 

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HotDocs 2011: Hot Coffee Review


 

 

In Rodrigo Cortés’ thriller Buried (the one with Ryan Reynolds making cellphone calls from a coffin) there was one bit of highly effective satire involving the company employing Reynolds’ character (as a truck driver in Iraq) and their insistence of getting liability out of the way before they would help him escape from asphyxiation that struck me as both hilarious and outlandish. There is a nihilism in Cortés film that was rather off putting, it is practically a deal breaker for recommending the film (beyond its handsome craft), that I find myself now reconsidering after watching, Hot Coffee one of the big ‘issue’ documentaries at this years edition of HotDocs. If nothing else, it shows that the intentions of the founding fathers of the U.S. constitution probably had no idea that lobbyists and unfettered capitalism would go so far in undermining so many of the rights (and checks and balances) implicit in the formation of the land of the free.

You probably heard of that case in the early 1990s of the old lady who spilled a cup of coffee on herself in the car after purchasing it from a local McDonald’s restaurant. It was a gag in Seinfeld, late night talk show fodder, and the poster child for frivolous civil litigation in the United States. The jury awarded Stella Liebeck $2.86 Million dollars. The initial thought is, holy Jackpot! After you see the photos of Ms. Liebeck’s inner thighs and all the skin grafts and whatnot, it is crystal clear that those are some serious burns, and that McDonald’s had its coffee makers set a egregiously high temperatures and had hundreds if not thousands of customer complaints up until that point, it becomes less of a case about common sense of one lady, and more of a case of media spin. But it’s not the media at the heart of things, it’s those damn lobbyists (while not unique to the United States, but certainly America has turned corporate advocacy it into an orchestrated art-form and if the middle-brow comedy of Thank-you for Smoking was not enough to sway you, perhaps the hand-over-mouth personal tragedies outlined in the workmanlike fashion of director Susan Saladoff might change a world-view or two. At the very least, you will know what a Tort is and why its reform is perhaps better described as a deform, meaning taking the Jury of your peers out of the equation in favour of recommendations given from firms/individuals often employed by the corporate defendant, or otherwise at the behest of their lobby.) It is certainly worth repeating that most of the great advances in safety in consumer goods comes from injured parties costing the company enough money to consider safety the wiser and cheaper alternative to ignoring a low-on-the-companies-priority list issue.

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