HBO on Monday debuted Beware The Slenderman, a documentary about what authorities say was the attempted murder of a Wisconsin girl by her two 12-year-old friends.
The actions of the girls and their subsequent, prolonged journey through the courts have been the subject of national fascination after they revealed to police they believed they were acting under the orders of Slenderman.
Both suspects in the case have pleaded not guilty because of mental illness, and in December the attorney for one of them argued the confessions that have been cited should be thrown out, the Chicago Tribune reported. The judge has said a trial could start this spring.
They believed that by sacrificing their friend, Payton "Bella" Luetner – who was stabbed 19 times in Waukesha in May 2014 – they were protecting their families from the internet monster, according to authorities.
Kotaku reports that HBO's documentary is unable to provide viewers with understanding of why they might have carried out the horrific crime, but did offer "an insight into the true power of memetic thought."
Unlike the sensationalized portrayals in national media that painted one of the girls as an evil mastermind and her friend the accomplice, GQ calls the documentary "more disturbing than a horror movie" in large part because of the "heart-breaking" scenes featuring the girls' parents, who have been left shocked and bewildered that their beloved children could carry out such an act.
Rolling Stone has pulled together "6 Things We Learned" from the documentary, which focuses on the months of planning the girls are said to have done, and how they may have used the Slenderman as a projection for the social issues they were facing.
The documentary is "horribly compelling," Entertainment Weekly says, with director Irene Brodsky offering a "more nuanced" explanation for the incident that goes beyond blaming a cult online figure, bringing in "the far more terrifying subject of mental health issues."
Here are some of reactions from viewers.