The 2014 Waukesha stabbing of a youngster by two schoolmates has been covered extensively locally and nationally. The details of the crime have been well-documented.
The 114-minute HBO documentary film “Beware the Slenderman,” which will be shown at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5, at the Times Cinema as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival, puts faces on all the characters – the two girls accused of the stabbings, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, and their parents, friends, medical professionals, law enforcement officers.
We even get to know Slender Man, the bogeyman-type character on a website the girls frequented. This character became so real to the girls that they felt they had to kill someone to appease him, or risk themselves or their families being killed.
In the film, which was also presented last weekend at the Landmark Oriental Theatre, Morgan’s mother, Angie, recalled the girls having doughnuts and strawberries for breakfast the morning after Morgan’s birthday sleepover. Then they asked if they could go to the park. That’s where the stabbing took place. After the stabbing, the girls said they started walking to Slender Man’s mansion in the Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin. They were picked up by police several hours later.
Within the families
The film opens with scenes of each of the girls as youngsters.
Morgan is shown playing a little piano and making up songs. Her mother says she didn’t seem to care what others thought about her and didn’t react like other little girls. She says she was worried her daughter might be upset when she saw the Disney film “Bambi,” in which Bambi’s mother is killed by a hunter. But she wasn’t.
Anissa is shown as a young child, singing “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean” with her mother. Another scene shows her cat and her father talking about her using her iPad.
The discussion after the show, which included the film’s director and co-producer, Irene Taylor Brodsky, as well as Anissa’s parents Kristi and Bill Weier, offered a warning from Anissa’s dad, who is shown extensively in the film.
“The film shows that this could be anyone’s child,” Bill Weier said, adding “no one saw this coming. Until it was too late.”
Anissa’s mother said she was wary at first of doing the documentary. She remembers the HBO team behind her at a trial for the girls and feeling angry about their intrusion. But she received a “heartfelt” letter from Brodsky about doing the film and warmed to the idea.
“It’s not me, to stand up and cause a riot,” she said. “We’re hoping some day in the future it can help another child.”
Kristi and Bill Weier both stressed the importance of monitoring the internet. In prison for 2½ years, Anissa has not had access to a computer. Yet, said her mother, she can remember vividly a YouTube video from 2½ years ago.
“The internet is so powerful,” said Kristi Weier.
Bill Weier also questioned the wisdom of Waukesha schools handing out iPads to students. The Waukesha school computers now block the sites related to Slender Man.
In the post film discussion, Anissa’s parents said they don’t talk to Anissa about the stabbing when they visit.
“We do our best not to talk about what she did,” said Bill Weier, adding, “She is remorseful. She doesn’t know why her mind allowed her to do this.”
He said he and Kristi try to stay positive during their visits, which are only allowed twice a month. They are trying to teach her how to play sheepshead. During the film, Kristi says Anissa is not allowed to see brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles.
During the after-film discussion, Brodsky added that her Slender Man film wouldn’t have even come about if the girls would not in the process of being tried as adults. All the records relating to the case would have been sealed and unavailable if the girls were tried as juveniles.
In the film, we see extensive portions of the actual initial interrogations of the two girls by police. It is chilling at times, almost surrealistic how two youngsters could have been so impressionable as to plan and carry out such a scheme.
At one point, Morgan asks if she was going to prison “to rot and die.” Another time she asks the interrogator if the girl she stabbed was dead and then said, “I was just wondering.” The girl, Payton Leutner, is now in eighth grade and has recovered from her injuries. Her family did not want to be part of the documentary.
Anissa during the interrogation says, “The bad part of me wanted her to die. The good part of me wanted her to live.” When the officer leaves the room, the video is still recording and Anissa takes the blanket that is around her shoulders, bends over and covers her head, rocking slightly.
In prison, awaiting their trial as adults, the girls rarely get outside. Anissa’s mom said that in the 846 days her daughter has been in her windowless room in prison, she’s had less than 15 hours of outside time.
In the courtroom, the HBO crew was not allowed to film the girls’ faces. You do see the girls handcuffed, with shackles on their feet.
Seeing Slender Man
The film also indicated how the Slender Man myth snowballed into YouTube videos showing sightings of the character, children being attacked by him and Photoshopped manifestations. Drawings of the tall, stick-like, faceless figure were made by the girls.
“He stalks you until you just give up,” one expert of the Slender Man myth remarks in the film. Slender Man’s power is called “horrific.”
Morgan’s mom says she didn’t think it was unusual that kids would be drawn to creepy characters, but she didn’t realize the extent to which Morgan was drawn to Slender Man.
“She was living a life in her head that we didn’t know about,” she says.
According to Brodsky, Morgan’s mother, who was not present for the discussion, told the director she would like the audience that viewed the film to know her daughter has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, like Morgan’s father, and is taking medication.
Morgan’s mother reportedly told Brodsky, “(Morgan) is glad to not be psychotic anymore.”
Morgan’s father Matt talks about his schizophrenia in the film, saying he knows some things aren’t real. Yet, if “it smells and tastes and looks real,” it is real to him.
The film indicates that each girl alone would probably not have planned the attack. But the perfect storm was created by the two, who were similar in that they had trouble making friends and didn’t fit in. In the film, a psychologist says they were “feeding off each other.”
It was said that the two were both “strong believers” and that their connection made them feel special and “part of something.”
Brodsky said she would like to see older friends and siblings talking to those younger, dispelling myths about scary characters that may seem real. Often kids don’t listen to adults.
“Kids are going to have to work this out among themselves,” she said.