IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 94 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
1969, Madison Wisconsin. Reporter Larry Redmon goes insane and starts shooting members of his family while chanting: “Don’t think it, don’t say it”. Fast forward to the present day and students Elliot, his girlfriend Sasha, and his best friend John [who harbours a crush on Sasha] move into an old house. Elliot discovers some strange writing scrawled in a bedside table that says: “Don’t think it, don’t say it” over and over again, then under that he sees “The Bye Bye Man” scratched into the wood of the table. Sasha is scared but the other two initially don’t believe anything’s wrong even after a séance to cleanse goes wrong, but soon they also begin to hallucinate. It seems that an evil entity called the Bye Bye Man is stalking them, and knowing his name and thinking about it gives him greater abilities to cause deadly visions and turn them against each other…
About two thirds of the way through the showing of The Bye Bye Man [even if the film’s villain has that name, surely they could have thought of a better title?] that I intendee, I felt like crying out: “Oh for f**** sake”, because I was absolutely sick of characters going on about the film’s premise to each other. Honestly, about a third of it consists of somebody telling somebody else not to think about or mention the Bye Bye Man. This results in the film really coming across as if it was made for people for memory loss, or at least idiots who constantly need to be reminded of what’s going on. But then The Bye Bye Man is a fairly weak exercise in mild horror anyway, though I wouldn’t say it was truly terrible all of the time. Parts of the first half do work in the way a movie like this should. Unfortunately, a great many other moments just cause laughter or shrugging of the shoulders and the whole thing ends up being a sad waste of a premise which, even if obviously influenced by Candyman [and there are also distinct whiffs of The Ring and It Follows throughout], does have potential, and mostly results in little more than replays of the same scene over and over again and….as I’ve already said….characters constantly repeating what they have to not do.
The Bye Bye Man is adapted by screenwriter Jonathan Penner from a chapter in a supposedly non-fiction book called The President’s Vampire by Robert Damon Schneck, where Schneck claims his three friends were stalked by a terrifying entity in Wisconsin while at college in 1990. The film was actually completed in September of 2014 and then re-edited from an ‘R’ rating to a ‘PG-13’ just before it was finally released. The neutering of this film, which may possibly have been better in its original form but not by much in my opinion, is rather obvious, especially in scenes where people are shot at close range and we don’t see so much as a drop of blood, the red stuff probably having been digitally removed. Saying that, the very first scene of Larry blasting away at his family still works well as an intense opener, the sudden violence quite startling. We return to these events on two occasions later, and both times it’s good because we learn a little bit more about what actually happened.
Of course our main protagonists are three college students and the two guys are very much stock characters while the gal barely has a character at all. Douglas Smith is reasonable as Elliott but the other two performers visibly struggle with what they’ve been given to work with [which isn’t much]. Their new house seems to have virtually nothing in it until they discover a basement with lots of stuff in [why the previous owner took the trouble to carry beds and cupboards all the way down to this place is never explained], a basement which contains a bedside table with inexplicable writing on. We then get a rather edgy moment where Sasha is alone in bed and we adopt her viewpoint and a coat [or coat and trousers, or whatever] is hung up on the far wall and looks like the outline of a person. It’s really effective because it allows one to get a little scared without actually showing us anything, and gave me hope that maybe the majority of critics could actually be wrong about this movie. But this was followed by a bit which almost made me chuckle out loud when Elliott’s brother’s daughter starts exploring the house while a party’s going on and, at exactly the same time as she closes a door exiting one room, another door opens and a ridiculously looking CGI hound comes in. Anyway, at the party is a “gifted” friend of our trio’s called Kim who “cleanses” the house. Later on she holds a séance, and the scene works quite well with Kim knowing things she can’t know about the others and then crying out: “Don’t think it, don’t say it” over and over again. I still honestly thought that was one of the most underrated horrors I’d seen at this point!
However, things go downhill almost immediately afterwards which can’t be more than half an hour or so into the film. Sasha is frightened, and Elliot and John remain skeptical and ignore her warnings, but then the movie seems to skip a load of scenes and now focuses on Elliot’s insistence that they are all being hunted down by the Bye Bye Man, who will get inside their heads and turn them against each other with hallucinations. Instead of allowing the characters to come to this information at a natural pace, it just seems like they cut out ten or fifteen minutes worth of footage to presumably speed things up. There’s a nicely uneasy moment when the morning after John and Kim have had sex, Kim seems to have maggots on her [the revolting creatures always do it for me] and he leaves her there and then. However, for the most part matters just settle into an increasingly tedious pattern of ‘character tells another character what to do, character sees a hallucination of one of the other characters, then repeat over and over again’. Most of the time we centre on Elliott thinking that the other two could be getting it on. I initially wondered if the Bye Bye Man was going to exploit fears that were already there in the characters, but then I realised that such a idea was too sophisticated for this film to exploit in any great fashion. By the time we get to a conversation with a librarian which discusses how you shouldn’t say the villain’s name [of course, what else?] but which actually name-drops him several times, the only thing to really do is to try to take the film as a comedy, though I’ll admit that a rather bleak conclusion did impress me somewhat.
Another major problem with this movie is that we’re never really told anything about its villain. Where does he come from? Why can’t his name be spoken? Why is he often accompanied by this hound? Leaving some details shrouded in mystery is fine, but The Bye Bye Man takes this to ludicrous extremes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Penner has worked out many of the details and is saving them for a sequel which probably won’t happen. In any case, the attempt at creating a new horror icon is well and truly botched, and we end up not being frightened much at all by an unimpressive looking creature who constantly uses other people to do his dirty business for him and hardly leaves actor Doug Jones with anything to do. The most unnerving visual in the film is probably the genuinely unsettling, plastic-looking face of Faye Dunaway, though she does make the most out of her lengthy single scene, as does Carrie-Anne Moss in a larger role as a cop who also performs with conviction and really seems to be acting in something….you know….good.
The director is a lady called Stacy Title who once made another horror film called Hood Of Horror which is also supposed to be pretty bad. On the evidence of The Bye Bye Man she’s not a major talent but does know what she’s doing and at times seems to be trying her best with the material he’s been given. She times jump scares quite well though of course this is yet another film that thinks it’s the music composer’s job to make the viewer jump as much as the director’s. This is also a film where – for example – somebody eventually has the bright idea of getting rid of the table which may have started all this but the idiot just throws it into the woods beside the garden rather than burning it or something. It’s the absolutely dreadful screenplay [by a guy who’s actually written a book about horror movies, no less] that really sinks this film and, despite there being a few rather good moments which are mostly in the first third, results in something that manages the actually quite remarkable achievement of being rather funny, very stupid and yet rather boring at the same time. It’s a film that you’ll probably want to say “Bye Bye” to well before the end credits come up.