The Bye Bye Man and all the images you see in this review are owned by STX Entertainment
Directed by Stacy Title
See, I thought I wouldn’t have to talk about STX Entertainment again until that damn Mars YA movie finally came out (ENOUGH WITH THE TRAILER ALREADY!) but it looks like they’re here to fill the January Horror Movie quota which was met in previous years by gems such as The Forest, The Devil Inside, and Texas Chainsaw 3D. Then again, The Boy came out in January of last year, and that was ALSO a film from STX Entertainment, so maybe there’s just a TINY bit of hope here. Can STX pull off the impossible yet again and give us a January horror film that won’t embarrass the genre, or is this movie just as stupid as its title suggests? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins in the late sixties where a guy (Jonathan Penner) shoots a bunch of people because they had heard of THE BYE BYE MAN, which I’m sure was the most sensible solution to that problem. Jump ahead five decades and we find ourselves in modern times where three college students, Elliot, John, and Sasha (Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, and Cressida Bonas), just moved into a new house off of campus and are cleaning up all the crappy furniture that the landlord left them. Of course, one of the tables has something crudely etched on it that Elliot ends up reading. Of course it’s the words THE BYE BYE MAN, and in doing so he… I guess invites The Bye Bye man to take permanent residence in his brain. You know, at least when they summoned the deadites in Evil Dead, they had to read a WHOLE passage from an ancient Sumerian text instead of just a dumb name! Anyway, the name eventually reaches his two roommates as well as some sort of psychic who is obvious slasher fodder (Jenna Kanell) and so The Bye Bye Man just starts messing with all their heads; making them see things that aren’t there and driving them more and more insane in the process. Will the three of them find a way to get past this monster’s illusions before it makes them do something they’ll regret? Why did that dude in the sixties end up shooting everyone who had heard of this… ghost, I guess? Did anyone stop to read the script before filming this, or were they winging it the whole time?
At first, I was pleasantly surprised that a January horror movie was actually trying to be a GOOD movie, what with the solid cinematography, a likable enough cast, and a soundtrack that fits in with the moody tone the movie is trying to go for. Hell, compared to the first horror movie of LAST year, this is a damn near masterpiece and it made me wonder why they were wasting this in January when it might have done stronger in a month that wasn’t notorious for being a dumping ground of bad movies. Then the first act ended and things started to kick into high gear which is when the whole damn picture fell apart and it’s all made worse because of the potential that was clearly on display right before things went to hell. The best comparison I can draw as far as the problems in this movie would be The Blair Witch from last year which similarly started out stronger than I expected but quickly devolved into uninteresting and unsatisfying set pieces designed to inspire fear but only lead to frustration. Once again, we have a horror movie who’s plot doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, who’s primary antagonist is an uninspired blank slate of a villain, and who’s script cheats all the damn time just for dramatic effect. I wanted to like this so much more than I did, but it just kept dropping the ball over and over again until I finally had to give up on it and was merely waiting for it to be over. Congratulations people. It is officially January at the multiplex.
So what does this movie get right that lead to me feeling so disappointed when it turned out to be yet another crappy horror film? The first act, after an admittedly goofy opening, does a decent job of setting up the situation and the characters in it. We’ve got a bunch of college students instead of the horror movie standard high schoolers (thank goodness because none of these grown ass adults could pull THAT off) moving into a house that simultaneously seems perfect for haunting purposes, but is cool enough that you would easily buy them renting it out rather than using the dorms on campus, and while I don’t think the characters were GREAT in here, they weren’t actively annoying which goes a long way to having us care if they get viciously murdered. Hell, even some of the initial scares manage to be somewhat effective as they don’t go for loud noises and quick cuts; rather they’re about filling background space with scary characters that you could easily miss but are effective when you do notice them. What is easily the best scare of the movie is cribbed from The Amityville Horror, but manages to do something interesting with it rather than directly copy it. There’s some interesting buildup here that at least gave me some hope for the rest of the movie. Too bad it ended up being all downhill from there.
The biggest problem with this movie is its central conceit which I will break down into two categories; The Bye Bye Man himself (as well as his lore and accessories) and the underlying fear he’s supposed to represent. The Bye Bye Man is just not a good villain in this. He simply doesn’t make any sense, and he’s not given any actual lore to speak of to explain any of the Five Ws (who, what, where, when, and why) that would have given his character some context. Now you don’t ALWAYS have to strictly define what a character is about for them to be scary, but if he’s not gonna simply be a ghost, you need to explain at least SOMETHING about him. Even Michael Myers who is just THE SHAPE has weaknesses, specific skills, and an easily identifiable level of threat. He’s a human which means he can ONLY hurt you when he’s within arm’s reach, so the tension can be built whenever he comes closer. Hell, even ones whose power set is less easily defined such as Freddy Kruger manages to make up for that with at the very least a LOOSE definition of the rules and then using the conceit to its full potential. Because Freddy has a face, a name, and a voice, he has a personality which provides insight into his character. Because he’s free from human restraints (unlike Michael Myers), the filmmakers were able to get creative with the way he dispatches his victims; building on the idea of things that scare us in our own dreams. There is NONE of that here for The Bye Bye Man and it makes his presence in the film completely pointless. What are his powers? Where did he come from? What is the deal with the trains and why does he have a CGI dog without skin following him around? Can he teleport? Does he have a corporeal form, or is the hooded figure just an illusion? Does he have any weaknesses? Does he enjoy what he does? Give me SOMETHING to work with here!!
So if the Bye Bye Man himself doesn’t add anything to the movie, what about the more abstract horror conceits that he’s supposed to tap into? The idea behind the Bye Bye Man is that by merely knowing he exists, he’s able to mess with you, which I’m PRETTY sure was the same deal with Freddy Kruger, (as well as Samara from The Ring) but whatever. The movie focuses in on what it would be like to have to deal with something that you can’t share with anyone, lest they get hurt too, and the idea of having to take on a burden that might kill you in the process. That’s not a bad idea… but the movie is very sloppy with it and how it plays out mechanically in the story. What exactly does The Bye Bye Man do to someone once he’s in their head? Eh… it’s honestly hard to say where the boundaries of his influence lie, but essentially he can do three things. He can make them see things, he can make them lose track of time (which I guess would more broadly mean he messes with their mental state), and he can outright control them to the point that they would murder other people. Now if you notice, that last one seems like a PRETTY strong power to have and would kind of nullify the point of the other two. It’s one of those things where, because we don’t have a solid grasp on just what he can or cannot do, we begin to question why this movie is in fact an hour and a half if he can just make them stab each other within hours of getting in their heads (which would only be minutes in the movie). The thing about tension is that we HAVE to know the stakes for it be effectively built. We HAVE to know what needs to happen for a bad outcome so that they can edge ever closer to this even occurring, whether it’s a countdown on a bomb, a killer trying to make to make it across the street, or trying not to fall asleep again. For all I know, and for all the movie tells us, he can snap his fingers and make them all blow each other’s brains out, or more interestingly he could probably get them to buy a megaphone and just start screaming his name on street corners. No, that idea is just too darn interesting for a story like this, so instead we have these characters getting more and more stressed out, but aren’t given either some sort of release valve (there isn’t really an way they can fend him off) or any sort or road map for an end goal they wish to avoid other than the most broadly defined one of NOT DYING.
Even if you try to look past how lame the bad guy is and how undisciplined the central conceit is, at best this is a mediocre PG-13 horror film. There’s not thing to really make it stand out other than that one scare from The Amityville Horror. No interesting cinematography past the first act, no clever ideas that amount to anything, not even notably good acting form any of the leads who don’t have enough to do in here to make their roles meaningful. Not only that, but the way they edited this down to a PG-13 is almost laughable as SEVERAL people get shot with a shotgun in this, and not one of them has a wound to show for it. They even linger on one of the bodies for a quite a few seconds which makes it all the more obvious how there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them which makes it harder to suspend our disbelief in a movie that already isn’t giving us a lot of reasons to even try.
It’s better than last year’s January train wreck The Forest, but not by enough for me to be happy with the end result. There’s something actually worth a damn in the premise here which is more than I was expecting, but the execution is too safe as far as scares and too unfocused as far as plot for any of it to matter by the time shit starts to hit the fan for our characters. Don’t waste your time seeing this in the theater, especially when Underworld: Blood Wars is still playing and has WAY more horror elements in it that this disappointing Pablum. The best we can hope for is another Ouija style ground up reboot to give us the movie this SHOULD have been. Hell, you already paid Carrie-Anne Moss to be a cop for like ten minutes in this movie. It can’t be THAT much more expensive for her to be the lead in a sequel, right?
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