Made up entirely of YouTube videos about the spooky internet entity known as Slenderman, A Self-Induced Hallucination turns a rumination on a modern monster into an investigation concerning the blurry line between fiction and reality. Acclaimed writer-director Jane Schoenbrun was struggling with dysphoria and writing their horror coming-of-age feature debut We’re All Going to the World’s Fair while editing this film; its emphasis on fantasies becoming facts mirroring their own search for transness.
Schoenbrun thinks of the film as a “work of theological inquiry” into their belief in “art as a form of secular worship.” When one YouTuber claims Slenderman is the product of global storytelling and the growing myth “one of the biggest experimental art pieces on the internet,” Schoenbrun’s theory feels justified. By presenting the manifestation of Slenderman in the public imagination as the result of a collective unconscious’ art project, Schoenbrun reveals an inherent will to create among people who want more from the world than what reality has to offer.
“I fell down the rabbit hole. Like thousands before me I started watching YouTube videos, reading creepypastas, Wiki-entries, and MMORPG forum posts, all of them written in the first-person, most of them written by kids. I was fascinated by the agreed-upon premise underlying this creative movement: that contributors would never break character, that they would never admit that the experiences they were recounting were fictional.” JANE SCHOENBRUN
This interest in what is real and what isn’t — and whether that even matters — is central to Schoenbrun’s films, where unexplainable horror phenomena often figures as a source of bonding for its lonely characters. The patchwork design of A Self-Induced Hallucination is a reminder that no matter how lonely web-surfing gets or how isolated someone may look trapped inside a YouTube window, the internet is still a community whose members inevitably contribute unusual thrills, hidden knowledge, or new insights to one another.
Jane Schoenbrun is a non-binary writer-director and film curator. In 2021, their feature debut We’re All Going to the World’s Fair premiered at Sundance, played at New Directors / New Films, and was subsequently named one of the best films of 2022 by Film Comment Magazine following its official release. I Saw the TV Glow, their follow-up film about two teens with a shared affinity for a horror series that is mysteriously canceled, is currently in post-production and set to be released by A24.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.