From the Archives: The Bye Bye Man review

From the Archives: The Bye Bye Man review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Don’t say it. Don’t think it. Don’t say it. Don’t think it. These are the rather simple rules to avoiding the curse of The Bye Bye Man from spreading, because once you know his name, it’s too late. This is a decent idea made that much sillier by the fact that the cursed name is “The Bye Bye Man.” But I guess it makes sense in much the same way that an advertising jingle does. It doesn’t HAVE to be good, just catchy. And how easy it is to say “I think I’m possessed by The Bye Bye Man.” No doubt others will say “Dan lost his mind. He’s blathering on about The Bye Bye Man”

“The what?”

“The Bye Bye Man”

“Did you just say ‘The Bye Bye Man’?”

“Yeah, The Bye Bye Man.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Yes, yes it is.”

Only it isn’t because NOW WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!

As PG-13 horror flicks go, The Bye Bye Man opens strongly. We watch as a clearly disturbed man (horror stalwart, Leigh Wannell) executes friends and neighbors while asking “who did you tell?!?!?” The scene takes place in the late sixties (another recent horror staple), juxtaposing the bright design of the times against grim subject matter. It’s a sharply directed, effective few minutes of storytelling. It’s also the high point of the film.

What follows is a standard teen horror flick, complete with requisite jump scares, volume cranks, and middling CGI beastery. Some moments shine over others, but there’s nothing new to speak of. The Bye Bye Man himself is no Freddy Krueger – just a bland, hooded figure without any backstory. This is probably the film’s greatest weakness – the villain has no motivation except to function in a horror movie.

The story feels like it’s being made up on the spot as we follow the exploits of three college freshman who have rented a spooky old house as their off campus abode. It’s fully furnished, but the furniture is spooky! A nightstand has “Don’t say it. Don’t think it” scrawled into its surface. Naturally, our hero reads this aloud even though he is alone, ultimately leading to him saying “The Bye Bye Man.” From this moment he is plagued with haunting visions, and once he says “The Bye Bye Man” in front of his friends, they are cursed as well.

These visions lead to misunderstandings which lead to bloodshed which leads to people saying “The Bye Bye Man” out loud which leads to more people saying it which leads me to say “why couldn’t they come up with literally any other name than ‘The Bye Bye Man’?”

Whatever. It’s not a terrible movie, it’s just unremarkable, only fulfilling about 50% of the potential of such a concept. I honestly believe that there is something worth exploring here, but the film steadfastly refuses to dip into the mythology of The Bye Bye Man, leaving us with nothing to chew on but bland, surface level jolts.

Here’s a question: If I have recently been cursed with The Bye Bye Man and I say to my friend “I’m headed to the store, bye bye, man,” will he become infected? Does The Bye Bye Man consider context? He should. But if not, I submit that he may serve his goals better by changing his name to The Peace Out Bro. This would all but guarantee worldwide infection within weeks.

Our lead, Douglas Smith (Ouija, ha) is a much better actor than the movie will allow. Despite his only defining characteristic being “wears a Joy Division t-shirt,” he manages to make the descent into madness believable. His girlfriend, played by Cressida Bonas (nothing), has all the charisma of a filing cabinet, treating every piece of dialogue like a half-digested burp. She literally whispers every word while clearly struggling to remember her lines. It’s weird that no one called for a cut, a second take, or an all-out recasting of the role.

The film is based on the short story The Bridge to Body Island, itself a portion of a larger novel The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America. I imagine this is a collection of oddball myths with real world consequences. As such, I imagine that there is much more to The Bye Bye Man’s tale, but I guess you’ve got to read it to find out. As a movie, The Bye Bye Man serves but one function: to deliver a safe, completely middle-of-the-road genre picture for undiscerning teens.

The Bye Bye Man opens today in Philly area theaters.

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