Don’t think it. Easy enough, no one seems to have thought about much here. Don’t say it. Don’t worry, I won’t be recommending this one. Don’t watch it! That’s just my warning to you. Welcome to the desolate cinematic wasteland of January, my weathered friends.
The Bye Bye Man is an unfathomably inept horror film; one that’s an obvious byproduct of The Babadook/It Follows brand of horror success. It is, without apology, one of the emptiest, nonsensical haunted thrillers ever to fail genre audiences. “So bad it’s good” would be a tremendous improvement in quality, as you’ll end up laughing for spells simply out of maddening boredom. Nothing is funny, just disjoined, utterly senseless and cataclysmically misguided – we’re talking every single aspect. I mean, you can’t fault a team for attempting something new and iconic in horror. You can only shake your head as the train runs violently off the tracks with no signs of ever righting itself.
Douglas Smith stars as Elliot, who rents a creepy old college house with girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and best friend John (Lucien Laviscount). It’s a fixer-upper in every sense, but nothing the three new roommates can’t handle! While exploring, they find furniture in the basement that gets dragged upstairs for actual use. A bed, chairs, and a nightstand with writing in its drawer. “Don’t think it, don’t say it,” the spiraling text reads, and underneath Douglas sees something carved into the wood – “The Bye Bye Man.” From this point on, the housemates start experiencing weird occurrences. Sounds, hallucinations and visions of a shadowy figure plague Douglas’ crew, eventually leading to the discovery of a hometown curse without a clear resolution. Can The Bye Bye Man be stopped? For sequel purposes, probably not.
So, to start. I’ll make it simple – who is
The Baba The Bye Bye Man? Why is he stuck in some Earthly purgatory? Where does he get his Hot-Topic-meets-hairless-modern-CGI-vampire look? What’s with his Playstation-quality hellhound best friend?
I…I don’t know. Shit. Maybe I shouldn’t have started there.
Jonathan Penner’s screenplay (adapted from Robert Damon Schneck’s novel The Bridge To Body Island) establishes zero mythology. We know that you can’t say his name, or he’ll appear from the shadows to trick you. He doesn’t kill, he only warps your mind to believe untrue circumstances. Bodies are usually left dead on the floor, as The
It Follows Monster Bye Bye Man’s inside-out pit bull chomps away at the fresh corpse. That’s his schtick, but again, there’s absolutely no reason WHY. Rules are blurry at best, and motivations are nonexistent. Why does he drop coins for people to find? Why does he feed the dog? WHY DOES HE KILL PEOPLE EVEN THOUGH HE ONLY LIVES THROUGH THEIR SPREADING OF HIS NAME?! Counter productive, much!? So we have a monster who makes no sense.
Thanks to Leigh Whannell’s role as writer Larry Redmon, his opening-scene gunman rampage establishes only one option out of
The Byebyedook’s The Bye Bye Man’s grip – death. You must kill everyone who knows his name and yourself. Done. No hope. So, with no way out for Elliot and the rest, where’s the tension? Gone. The film renders itself neutered by providing continual dead-ends as Mr. Bye Bye gets closer, and never with new information. The same “don’t say it, don’t think it” hook is rambled over and over again, as supporting characters spell out “Y-O-U-R-E F-U-C-K-E-D” until blue in the face.
So, let’s recap. A monster you can’t kill, and a story that never lets you forget it. Got it.
“How about the performances, then!” I’m assuming that’s your next question? Alright! Why not continue this theme of unsalvageable awfulness!
Whannell stands as the only redeemable presence in this laughingstock showcase, confident in his possessed pencil-pusher delivery. His scenes are a blast from the 60s, complete with shotgun accompaniment – but the modern-day actors? Quite a different tune. One that’s led by Smith’s too-dumb-for-horror main character, written so helplessly that even Leo DiCaprio would look a fool.
As Bye Bye (finally think I’ve got it) strengthens his grasp on Elliot, Smith spirals deeper into a twitchy breakdown that becomes hilarious only because of the falling support beams that crumble throughout The Bye Bye Man. Every chance Elliot gets, he implicates himself in the worst way – how about PUTTING THE BLOODY HAMMER DOWN BEFORE LEAVING A CAR? Decision after decision, Elliot proves himself to be a moron of epic proportions, given his big game-changing solution is to destroy the original nightstand…by throwing it out back. No fire, no explosion, no destructible power. Literally picking it up, and tossing it twenty feet into the backyard. *EPIC FACEPALM* Smith’s attempt to deliver psychological unrest is undermined every step of the way, dooming the actor to a fate of hambone nothingness.
Even worse is Cressida Bonas’ catatonic coed, who plays “sick” the whole time. That’s how B.B. gets to her – she gets the sniffles and a fever (and a case of the boring, fake coughing, borderline-unwatchable girlfriendsies). Some freaky goth chick gets hit by an ‘effing train, and all Bonas’ blondie gets is something that can be cured by chicken soup and a few visions of sexy, shirtless Lucien Laviscount – you know, the other guy whose sole purpose is to stupidly act too forward with Bonas just so Smith’s boyfriend can be uneasy at all times. Sorry Laviscount, but you got short-strawed here, and by “short straw,” I mean “I’m sorry your character was nothing but a cheap pawn for 90 minutes.”
Also, was that Faye Dunaway and Carrie-Anne Moss for two whole scenes (maybe three)? Cool. They don’t matter. Doug Jones as a prosthetics-wearing silent figure who walks and stands? What a waste. Time for another recap? A monster you can’t kill, a story that never lets you forget it and characters carved out of wood. Please, don’t make me go on.
Alas, I must.
Director Stacy Tile scouts some moody locations, but ultimately squanders her rickety-old ghost house. Awkward edits cut away from characters at inopportune times (Shasha covering her eyes in bed), while exposition and in-scene-explanations treat audience members like attention-deficit fruit flies.
Before entering a library, Elliot tells Sasha numerous times to meet at 2:00PM. He looks at his phone, and it clearly reads 1:40PM. He’s still got 20 minutes, plain as day – so why then have him blurt aloud, to himself, “Oh! I’ve got plenty of time!” Or when he starts writing the name “The Bye Bye Man” in a book, and he stops to say ALOUD “Don’t think it, don’t say it. Duh!” COMMENCE EYE-ROLL OF THE CENTURY. We’re not [insert animal with the shortest attention span]s. Your entire movie is built on a single catch phrase – I think you can assume it’s engrained into our memories despite best efforts.
It’s far worse than audience belittlement, though. The Bye Bye Man isn’t scary, opening closet doors and all. A big lumbering pooch walks around without ever doing anything, and the few “jumps” we get are horribly telegraphed (face in window/jacket hanging in figure outline). Scratching on bricks provides momentary Halloween atmospheres, but even the most timid horror fans will have trouble not sleeping through Elliot’s curse. You might as well too, because it’s not like you’ll miss much besides more CGI dog action and The Bye Bye Man’s eventual “boop” scene where he reveals his love for “booping” people on the forehead.
Aside from having a villain with no backstory, Penner’s screenplay introduces and abandons ideas with furious disregard. Take Elliot’s apparent orphan status (big bro plays protector), since Josh’s friendship was cemented by his commitment during hard times. A psychic even brings up Elliot’s trauma once more, suggesting importantance – only to never have the ordeal referenced again. We assume it has something to do with a train, because of a recurring vision where some locomotive barrels past strewn-about luggage, but we’ll never know!
Either the film spells things out in neon lights, or ignores continuity and hopes you won’t notice – especially when there’s violence. It’s PG-13 and all, so this means when Whannell point-blank blows a teen away with his shotgun, there’s not a single drop of blood. Not. One. Drop. Or tattered clothes. OR A WOUND. The camera even re-visits her motionless corpse, but since you can’t show gore at this rating, she looks exactly like a napping actress who was shot with a blank. Like, almost identical! Crazy, right?
The Babaman *dammit* It Bye Byes *nope* The Bye Bye Man Follows *so close* The Bye Bye Man for so long had the right idea. There is no redemption or underdog appeal. No hope for overnight success or surprise sequels. This is, by and large, one of the worst horror films I’ve had the displeasure of reviewing. Not a single aspect provides relief from its torturous counterparts, as this symphony of genre dysfunction plays like undead fingernails against a concrete wall. Ninety-plus minutes of wishing for an end you already know, tethered to storytelling that seems to be making itself up as scenes press on. To type anything else would be a waste of my time and yours – the previous 1,400 words were for my own sanity, rest assured. That’s enough of this charade. Bye bye, man.
The Bye Bye Man is like someone watched a double-bill of The Babadook/It Follows and said "I can do that!" but indeed cannot.