"Before you had angels and succubi, and then ghosts and spirits, today we have shadow people and inter-dimensional beings. The Slender Man, and other newly created entities, are just the newest addition in the progression of a long, and very real, human tradition. You’ve seen him, now you can’t unsee him."
- Victor Surge, creator of the Slender Man
Marble Hornets is a TV series and alternate reality game that began on YouTube in 2009. There are currently two complete series.
Film student Jay is trying to piece together what happened to his friend Alex, who started acting strangely three years ago and then disappeared. He goes through a box of tapes Alex gave him the last time they met, and soon discovers that something peculiar was going on with his friend: Alex had been filming himself constantly for months, and it seems to have something to do with the gaunt, faceless figure that's lurking in the background of some of the videos.
Yes, it's Slender Man: The YouTube Series. The Slender Man is an internet-generation bogeyman that first appeared on SomethingAwful.com, and for something that's little more than a name and an idea, has spawned a pretty impressive amount of artwork, fiction, Photoshops and even an appearance in Minecraft. There seems to be something about him that resonates with people: somehow it's the lack of specifics, the absence of a backstory, a motive, or even any concrete acts of villainy, that makes him all the more compelling. He's just there - a creepy, long-limbed guy who appears in hard-to-spot places, and whatever he bodes, it's not good.
The story of Marble Hornets unfolds as Jay uploads a series of entries to YouTube to "make sense of what's happening" (herpy and derpy, yes, but not really any more so than The Blair Witch Project's "It's all I have left!") As he comes to realise that there's more going on than he bargained for - more people disappear, he's attacked by masked figures, and those who worked on Marble Hornets are strangely unwilling to talk about it - another YouTube user called totheark begins posting cryptic and vaguely menacing responses to his videos. Is totheark warning him away, or leading him to the truth about Alex and the Slendy?
Marble Hornets is uneven, badly acted, pretentious in parts, and very, very good. As the entries are often out of order chronologically, it's not always clear what each one is adding to the story until you rewatch them in the context of what you've learned. Like a demonic Where's Wally, the Slender Man could be in any scene, forcing you to scan the background of every shot for the long-shanked antagonist - creating a game of see-him-before-he-sees-you that soon gets unnerving.
If this was the only gimmick, the series would have pretty short legs, but creators Troy Wagner and Joseph DeLage keep you intrigued by maintaining an internal logic to the proceedings, while coyly refusing to reveal what the chuff is going on. There are codes to be decoded in totheark's videos; patterns in the behaviour of the Slender Man and those who encounter him, recurring motifs like woodland and cameras - none of it makes sense yet, but it feels like the clues are there.
While it'll probably be compared with The Blair Witch Project, Marble Hornets has more in common with Koji Shiraishi's excellent Noroi. It has the trappings of a paranormal procedural and strange, possibly unreliable characters, underpinned by a gradually escalating sense of dread as they continue to learn nothing that could help them.
At the time of writing, the third and final season is about to kick off - how it resolves the many questions the series has raised so far will be the real test of whether Marble Hornets is a quiet bit of horror brilliance, or a meme that's gotten out of hand.