The Bye Bye Man | Stacy Title | January 13, 2017
The Bye Bye Man is the latest entry in what I’d like to call the Why Is This Even A Thing genre. Actually, it’s more of a category of films or media items rather than a genre. I’ll get back to this in a minute.
The Bye Bye Man focuses on a trio of college students at BWU (Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, where the film was shot, standing in for the fictional Buchanan Williams University in Wisconsin) moving into a rented fixer-upper of a house off-campus. They’re Elliot (Douglas Smith), Sasha a.k.a. Bar (Cressida Bones), and John (Lucien Laviscount) – and John may or may not be a third wheel. Anyway, some odd stuff starts to happen once they unpack and refurnish the house with items in basement storage – silver dollars fall out of a nightstand, something canine is glimpsed in an attic crawlspace. After the skeptic Elliot sees the spiraled phrase “Don’t think it, don’t say it” papered over an etching of the phrase “The Bye Bye Man” in the nightstand drawer and says the latter phrase aloud during a jokey seance conducted after a housewarming party by a psychic-sensitive acquaintance Kim (Jenna Kanell), a mysterious pale figure in black watches Elliot and Sasha sleep. It turns out they’ve summoned The Bye Bye Man (Doug Jones), a bogeyman who … slowly drives people crazy via anxiety-ridden hallucinations? It’s not clear. So it’s up to the trio to stop The Bye Bye Man from spreading to others – since they summoned him after two short instigated killing sprees in the late 1960s – one by a local journalist Larry Redmon (Leigh Whannell) who investigated the first spree.
There’s a lot that’s not clear about the film. The trio has few defining characteristics – Elliot got into college on a scholarship in (maybe) the arts, he’s been in a relationship with Sasha for several months (at least, based on a magazine cut-out ransom note-esque lovey-dovey card), John’s like a brother (or maybe an adoptive brother) since Elliot’s parents died. Oh, and Elliot’s got a brother Virgil (Michael Trucco – from Battlestar Galactica) with an unnamed wife and daughter Alice (Erica Tremblay, the sister of Room actor Jacob Tremblay) – all of whom show up at his housewarming party with a bottle of alcohol – because who doesn’t like enabling college students in the family with alcohol at a party you bring your elementary school-aged daughter to? But that’s not all: according to the synopsis, the origins of The Bye Bye Man are supposedly revealed in the film, but instead, all we get are recurring hints of a train, a little sepia-toned photography, and two flashbacks to a prior incident over 40 years ago. That’s not a reveal.
I don’t think I’d be spoiling anything if I said The Bye Bye Man is a bad film. You should know that going in. Why?
- It’s a January release – a notorious dumping-ground month;
- It’s a mostly jump-scare horror film;
- It’s a jump-scare horror film released in January; (Okay, these are more generalizations.)
- The studio releasing the film in the US (STX Entertainment) is still up-and-coming with a few notable titles but not as much guaranteed success as, say, Universal, Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, among others. (Okay, that’s not a valid reason either.)
But apart from that, there’s very little scary about it. Sure, jump-scares (with a little in the way of creeping dread) but those aren’t as scary as the better horror from recent years (Cabin in the Woods chief among them). You also need to consider that this bogeyman horror trope has been done before – Candyman, Bloody Mary, A Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.). And with the shaky memetic rules about The Bye Bye Man, it doesn’t stand up or out in the sub-genre.
What pains me the most – besides the stupid choices made by Elliot regarding the Name He’s Not Supposed To Think Or Say – is how criminally underused Doug Jones and Carrie-Anne Moss are in the film – not to mention the glorified cameo from Faye Dunaway and brief three-scene appearance by character actress Cleo King (Aunt Lou from Deadwood). Jones, a frequent Guillermo del Toro collaborator (Abe Sapien most notably), mostly stands around, hidden in shadows with his blatantly CGI hellhound-like canine, and points/pokes. That’s it. Moss, playing a detective, doesn’t do a lot of investigating, instead placing blame based on circumstantial evidence.
So why is this a thing? Presumably because the writer-director couple of Jonathan Penner and Stacy Title (respectively) found Robert Damon Schneck’s urban legend story “The Bridge to Body Island” from one of his collections worth adapting for the big screen. And they got funding to do so.
Does all of this taken into consideration make The Bye Bye Man worth seeing? Unfortunately, no. The film’s full of plot holes, flat characters, stupid decisions, and poor horror. The barely redeeming factor is that it doesn’t look like a poorly shot college/indie horror film, so there was some talent behind the camera. Elsewhere, it doesn’t really show.