Slenderverse: TribeTwelve

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After the previous review I posted of Marble Hornets, I thought I should cover one that was initially inspired by it: TribeTwelve. Take note that the series has not ended, and that there is ample time for new viewers to catch up, possibly even before the next entry. You can likely binge watch the series up to now over a couple of evenings, and I recommend doing so.

The series follows Noah Maxwell, who used the channel originally for an abandoned school project. Rather than let the channel’s cool name go to waste, he decided to make it a tribute to his old friend and cousin, Milo Asher. Milo had committed suicide recently, and Noah, in his grief, began going over old footage the pair had shot of them during Milo’s last visit two years previous. Noah had noticed that Milo was acting odd, but when he went over the videos, he found some things he hadn’t picked up on at the time, things that hinted that Milo’s strange behavior, and possibly his suicide, were not necessarily the result of mental illness. Soon enough, after spotting Slenderman (referred to in-universe as The Administrator) in the videos, Noah becomes an apparent target, and is stalked by Slenderman as well. The series documents his search for answers and a solution to his problem while he slowly spirals downward into depression and, possibly, madness.

I’m not going to mark any spoilers from here on out. I will try to be as vague as possible about some of the larger reveals, and I’ll try to warn you in advance, but it’s impossible to discuss this series in any depth without spoiling anything. Consider thyself hereby warned.

General Impressions:

I came to this series pretty late in the game. As I mentioned previously, I got hooked on Slenderman lore while Marble Hornets was midway through Season Two. For a long time, that was the only series I followed, on the grounds that everything else would be a pale imitation. After a while, I found EverymanHYBRID, which I adored (and will be reviewed at some point in the future). Their crossover with TribeTwelve led me to this series.

Because Marble Hornets was the precursor to most of these vlogs, (that’s InterWebz speak for “video logs,” for the uninitiated), I went in with ludicrously low expectations. I figured that there would be some bargain bin version of Masky and Hoody, that the lead protagonist would basically be Jay 2.0, and that the horror aspect would reuse the old jump scare tactic for cheap thrills.

For the first few videos, I was proven right. The creator even used the same white text on black background title cards that Marble Hornets used in every entry! The acting wasn’t nearly as good, the effects were bland, and the settings were remarkably similar to every other vlog I’d seen. I resolved to stick with it for another couple of entries before calling it quits.

Holy crap am I glad I did.

The series was clearly originally intended to be an homage to Marble Hornets at first. After the first few videos, it seemed like the creator, Adam Rosner, decided that he wanted to make his own series rather than rehash something that had already been done.

He rapidly began advancing the plot in a new direction, beginning by introducing his grandfather Karl, a crazy old man who only spoke German. Said Crazy Man dropped a sack full of backstory onto Noah when he went to see him, and poof! Instant Mythos, just add Karl.

Things quickly began to escalate from this point in the story. Noah is attacked in his home, a box is left for him, he gets disturbing phone calls, finds out that someone has a key to his house, and then… his YouTube channel is hijacked.

This is the biggest departure from Marble Hornets at that point in the series. Rather than make a separate channel, like was done with ToTheArk in Marble Hornets, the creator decided to keep it all on the same one. This was later done in Marble Hornets, but at the time it was pretty novel.

The video from the hijacker, “HELLOTHERE” and the subsequent video, “The Token Letter,” introduced us to The Observer, a new antagonist. Obviously allied with the Administrator, the Observer is eventually revealed to be just one of many terrifyingly powerful entities in service to Slenderman.

Once I watched “HELLOTHERE,” I was hooked. And you will be too, I’m sure– the video is freaking gorgeous. But that’s getting too much into specifics for this section– I’ll talk about effects a bit later on.

Suffice it to say this for my general impression: the series took longer to get really unique and interesting that I would have liked, but once it did, it took off and never looked back. I have to give Mr. Rosner a lot of credit for what he’s accomplished so far, and it feels like he’s just getting started.

Let’s move on to some specific elements:

Good:

What is a story without characters?

TribeTwelve has a tiny cast. I mean, ludicrously small. There’s basically just Noah for most of the videos. A couple of times, notably in his crossovers with other series, he gets help from third parties, but they’re almost exclusively one-off appearances.

First, we obviously have Noah. This young man is not a typical story’s protagonist. It feels like Adam has basically decided to make his main character as realistic as possible. Noah is selfish and needy, pigheaded at times and unnecessarily stubborn often. He’s trying to solve this mystery because he wants to be left alone. His primary motivation appears to be self-preservation– which is a seriously reasonable response considering the things he’s up against. After the Administrator and the Observer make unscheduled appearances in his house, he buys a gun. The next time he sees Slenderman, he shoots him. It doesn’t work out well for Noah, but the guy tried.

Adam has made it a point to have Noah show genuine fear. Noah is terrified most of the time. And he should be. Too many times in various stories, even Marble Hornets, the lead protagonist stiffens his jaw in the face of danger. Noah runs away. After his channel is hijacked, Noah gets in his car and leaves the house. He gets a threat concerning his upcoming birthday, and checks into a hotel instead of staying home. He actually spent Thanksgiving one year at a fan’s house, but it didn’t work out so well (both in-universe and out of universe, but I won’t go there).

As the series progresses, we get to see Noah basically come apart at the seams. The constant stress of the Observer’s threats, the unending fear that death (or worse) is right around the corner for him combine to drive him further away from anything a reasonable person would call sanity. Paranoia fuels this poor guy’s existence, causing him to distrust anyone who might be able to help him. As of the latest video, we learn that Noah has spent the past ten months shut inside his apartment, unable to find a job or maintain any friendships, talking to himself and to his magic journal. (That last part makes sense in context).

The point is this: Noah’s reactions to the pressures around him reflect exactly what would happen to an average twentysomething if this began happening to them. The guy was faced with Forbidden Knowledge and an Eldritch Horror, and his response was to break. Watching his psyche fracture, bend and eventually collapse is a high point in this series for me– and there are many, as you’ll read.

Aside from Noah, we have The Collective as the primary antagonists, with Observer as the main foil. These entities are basically demigods, with a host of abilities including time and space distortion. They exist on a plane that is entirely separate from ours. Little is known about them, except that they serve The Administrator’s will. They are an extension of Slenderman, who has some unknown level of control over them. The Observer is the one who hijacks Noah’s channel frequently, posting taunting messages mixed with demands. He is one of three known to currently be possessing a human being– the other two being Mr. Scars and Cursor.

A bespectacled wiseass with a love for cruelty, The Observer’s motivations appear to be to make Noah’s life as terrible as possible. He kidnaps him at one point, opens up his skull and rummages around in Noah’s brain, is implied to take him somewhere, and dumps him back where he found him– after writing a message in permanent marker across Noah’s abdomen. What’s worse, it’s further implied in that same video that the Observer has been visiting Noah since he was a child, which has all sorts of creepy connotations.

The Observer is a constant presence after his first appearance in the series; once he shows up, I think he’s seen more frequently than the Administrator is. He’s threatening not because you think that he might kill Noah– it’s obvious, and I think even outright stated that the Observer needs Noah to stay alive, at least for the time being– but because he’s so damn creepy. He’s perfectly happy to sit in the background, watching. The “Several Months of Hell” update video is my favorite example of this. The Observer appears twice; once, around the three minute mark, he just peeks out from behind Noah’s chair before a jump cut. All the way at the end, his hand pokes out from the same spot, wagging a finger in mock disapproval. And Noah had no idea that he was even there. That was some solid nightmare fuel for me. Right now? I just turned around to check behind me, and I’m just thinking about the video. I haven’t even watched it for a couple of months.

We’re also introduced to Firebrand, a somewhat neutral party in the TribeTwelve universe. He makes several appearances in the videos, sometimes helping Noah, sometimes… not. It’s unclear what his goals and motivations are. He’s particularly noteworthy because he’s the only one that we can physically see talking. I mean with a mouth.

I literally cannot say anything else about Firebrand without spoiling an enormous amount, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Just trust me when I say that he’s cool.

You know what else is crazy important to a story? The story.

As I’ve said a bunch of times before, this series started as an obvious homage to Marble Hornets before it grew into its own. The end result, thus far, has been a plot that is fascinatingly complex, to the point where I’m actually having difficulty adequately summarizing it. In fact, I’m not even going to do that, because you really do need to watch the series to get the whole gist of it, and it isn’t my plot to summarize.

Also, it’s really hard this series.

There are some notably high points, though, and I’ll touch on one of those. Warning: Here There Be Spoilers.

TribeTwelve managed to pull off one of the single best examples of a stable time loop I’ve ever seen. It was clearly planned out ridiculously well in advance– and that’s the only way it can work. It centers around a little rubber ball. Noah finds it in his closet in the middle of the night after hearing loud bangs and… other things. Over a year later, during a LiveStream with fans, Noah is sent back in time to that night, holding the rubber ball. He appears in his closet, screams, “IT’S ME! IT’S ME! NOAH!”, and disappears, leaving the ball behind. The kicker? If you watch the original video where the ball is found, you can hear Noah’s scream over the banging in the closet. That was… that was good friggin’ planning.

There are a solid dozen good reveals throughout the series– not all of them are totally earth-shattering, but they’re all interesting. Noah sort of floats from point to point, trying his hardest to stay alive, and each thing that he uncovers adds something more to the mosaic, be it a piece of the Administrator’s origin, to a revelation about Firebrand.

It’s paced very well, at least when viewed all at once in a binge. I never felt like any of the uploads were filler entries, which Marble Hornets fell prey to once or twice. Not every one was jam-packed with mysteries unveiled, but every one felt necessary, and that’s not an easy thing to maintain for the four-plus years TribeTwelve has been updating.

Then there are what might be the biggest draw to this series for some people: the special effects.

I have not seen a webseries with a virtually nonexistent budget look this good ever. The distortion effects from Slenderman are done perfectly— there’s no assault on my eardrums, for which I’m thankful, but it’s still done in a way that asserts itself. Slenderman himself is rendered beautifully. And it’s almost all done in post. Here’s one Adam edited into footage from his flight to Jersey:
Flight

 

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I mean, look at that. The tentacles, man! In the video the image is from, you can see the tentacles undulating in a way that is disturbing. It’s just so damned well-polished.

You want something more impressive? How about you take a look at Firebrand?

Firebranddoor

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The first time I saw this, I very nearly wet myself. Because this isn’t just how Firebrand appears on camera; this is how he looks. The still image might not look all that impressive, but trust me; it’s a lot more disturbing in motion in the video this is taken from.

Then you have the seamless teleportation effects that take place at various times throughout the series, most notably in the latest crossover entries (warning: major spoilers for both TribeTwelve AND EverymanHYBRID are in those two videos, so click at your own risk). In one of them, Noah, holding his camera, is thrown through a doorway in New Jersey, and we see him fall backwards into his room in Florida. As the camera stays focused on the doorway, you can still see the Jersey house even though the footage is clearly being taken in Florida. This doesn’t seem impressive, because you’ve seen it done in Hollywood. But to get it done with no budget, using consumer-level editing software, by one guy in his spare time for a free internet show? It’s a hell of a feat of determination and skill.

Finally, you have the Collective videos. These are the ones that the Observer (sometimes others) upload onto Noah’s channel after a hijack.

They.

Are.

GORGEOUS.

Look at this. Look at this video.

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I don’t. I don’t really know what to say. There are six of these, and they’re just…

You know what? It’s worth it to watch this series just so that you can have context for these videos. Because, seriously, they’re too damn beautiful to not watch, and if you watch them, you should understand them. Seriously, just… just do it.

Okay?

Okay.

Mixed:

I’ll just come right out and say it: Milo was a terrible actor.

The first six entries in this series were awkward and almost cringeworthy because Milo was so bad. He forced his lines out so poorly that he made Noah look bad.

Look. These guys are not professional actors. At times, it can be really… well, terrible. Thankfully, after the opening submission videos were over and the series got started, the acting picked up. There were scenes afterwards that felt forced and strained, but none of them had the horrible quality that brought down what should have been pretty powerful scenes.

Occasionally, the acting will get really good! The past couple of videos were both really well done, though one of them was helped out with the presence of Evan of EverymanHYBRID, who just overshadows everyone else when he’s on camera.

Because it’s spotty, but there are some bright spots, I’m filing this under “Mixed.”

The only other thing that belongs here is the dialogue. A lot of it is actually quite good, though most of those are actually monologues of Noah speaking directly to the camera. Some of it… is not so good. Basically, if Noah and Milo are on screen together, or Noah is talking about Milo, the dialogue is brought way down in terms of quality. Adam, the creator (and the guy who portrays Noah), has a lot of strengths in terms of writing. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be able to put together words that aren’t forced when Noah talks about how much he misses his old buddy Milo. I don’t know what it is, and it isn’t my place to speculate, but it’s unfortunate that Milo was such an integral part of the early series, and references must be made to him later on, because I have yet to see a scene that even tangentially involves him that wasn’t riddled with dialogue that was just flat. The worst part is that they’re designed to be emotional. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do it for me.

Then again, there are scenes where the dialogue flows brilliantly. Adam makes me feel whatever it is he wants me to feel with his words– fear, sadness, loss, anger, hope, or happiness. He just doesn’t seem to have the knack for writing about Milo convincingly.

There’s also a lot of cursing. TribeTwelve has a bit of reputation for dropping the F-Bomb frequently. It doesn’t bother me, but for some people this is a turnoff (undeserved, because every series except Marble Hornets curses just as much). Do with that information what you will.

Bad:

Milo. Milo so much. In fact, the first six entries altogether are just terrible. Most of it is Milo’s character, but some of it is the fact that it’s so obviously trying to play off of Marble Hornets. There’s a lot of “Oh! Look at the background!” that Marble Hornets was famous for in its early stages, but it doesn’t pull it off nearly as well. Part of that has to do with the fact that I don’t know why the camera was there in the first place. It’s justified a bit by Noah saying he had just bought it and wanted to mess around with it, but it felt pretty weak.

It’s really unfortunate that those entries are of such low quality, because they’re relevant. If they weren’t, I’d tell everyone to skip them altogether. But to get the crux of Noah’s early involvement, they’re kind of necessary.

Go ahead and watch them, but don’t think that they’re indicative at all of the rest of the series. Literally every other video is categorically better than any of those. I am not exaggerating.

The only other bad thing about this series is the long wait time between updates. There was a ten month gap between the last video and the one before it– though that is far outside the norm. It has not been unusual for the past year or two to go at least a month between videos– a couple of exceptions are there, when Noah has to update quickly in-universe. Considering that these are filmed without a budget, and Mr. Rosner publishes them for free, I don’t think it’s our place to actually complain about this, but I know I’m not alone in wishing that it would update more frequently.

The fact is that Adam makes TribeTwelve in his spare time, and sometimes, spare time is difficult to find. I do think that he makes up for the infrequent updates with insane quality and attention to detail, which should mitigate the complainers.

It doesn’t, though, and I know Adam gets a lot of undeserved hate. To go off-track for a second and to step up onto a soapbox:

Never send anonymous hate to someone. You are not owed anything by a content creator. Just because you like a thing, and wish that there was more of said thing, does not mean that you get to throw a temper tantrum when you don’t get that thing. Adam consistently puts out high-quality free content for you to watch and enjoy– forever. Those videos will be there for all time! You can watch them at your leisure!

Just… don’t be a jerk. Adam, and other creators out there, are people, and you can actually cause increased delays if you bombard them with hate mail.

Lecture over. Time to wrap up.

Verdict:

Don’t act like you didn’t know where I was going with this. TribeTwelve is fantastic. It’s scary, it’s funny from time to time, it’s interesting, but most importantly, it’s consistent. Once the series got going in earnest, there has not been a bad video. That’s… extraordinary.

 I’ve been hooked for a couple of years now, and every Tweet that’s sent out, every tease that’s mentioned by Adam offhand, and every new theory I spot on Unfiction gets me excited for more.

I know that there’s some serious curveballs in store soon. And I can’t wait.

Watch TribeTwelve. It’s worth your time and attention.

Here is the YouTube channel.

Here is the series Twitter account.

Here is the TribeTwelve Wikipedia page (for links to all media; think of it like a hub to get started).

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