Studio: STX Entertainment
Director: Stacy Title
Writer: Jonathan Penner
Producer: Trevor Macy, Jeffrey Soros, Simon Horsman
Stars: Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Michael Trucco, Doug Jones, Carrie-Anne Moss, Faye Dunaway, Jenna Kanell, Erica Tremblay, Cleo King
Three friends are driven mad by haunting hallucinations after accidentally invoking the name of a supernatural boogeyman.
The one thing I knew about “The Bye Bye Man” going in was that common consensus overwhelmingly appeared to pinch its nose in the movie’s direction. Red-rimmed score boxes dominated reviews. My mind was massaged to prepare for a piss poor production of ‘2017’s worst horror film’ proportions.
It’s possible my score might have been red too, had I gone in blind during opening weekend with whatever standards others apparently had. Instead I was steeled for a cinematic disaster. And maybe that partly explains why my flipped opinion lands on the contrarian side of the coin. Because while popular POV assured me I’d want a pitchfork in one hand and a torch in the other, I came out of “The Bye Bye Man” wondering what was supposedly so awful that a hate-fueled tizzy would be warranted.
Three college friends rent an off-campus house that comes furnished with the sounds of dropping coins, scratching at walls, and haunting hallucinations of a hooded man and his hellhound. You’re not supposed to say his name. You’re not even supposed to think it. But after finding strange scribbles carved into a nightstand, a séance with a psychic inspires one of them to mutter ‘The Bye Bye Man’ and evil is unleashed.
Elliot seemingly sees his best friend John making moves on his girlfriend Sasha. John thinks he sees maggots crawling from the psychic’s head. Sasha comes down with a cough. Okay, Sasha’s corner of the curse isn’t so bad, but eeriness escalates from there.
Nightmares of torn out eyes, bloody visions of the boogeyman, and deepening dementia now torture each person. It’s only a matter of time before bodies begin dropping. Elliot and the others have no choice but to solve the mystery of how acknowledging an urban legend infected their heads. And they have to do it without anyone else knowing the Bye Bye Man’s name, or else his curse will continue.
“The Bye Bye Man” isn’t necessarily noteworthy. It’s a standard supernatural suspense yarn featuring routine college kid carnage. Yet for a PG-13 thriller left to freeze on a January release doorstep, which is really the right ruler for measuring, “The Bye Bye Man” is a perfectly passable popcorn production.
Say what you want about the script and few people will argue. Only someone suffering from a Bye Bye Man hallucination would defend the writing as a highlight. But effort put into production value is another story.
“The Bye Bye Man” opens on a continuous shot that would make Brian De Palma jealous, and choreographs intense action into its flashback for a pretty powerful prologue. First up after switching to present day is a boom shot establishing a campus from overhead. A lazy horror film would only plop down a tripod, yet this crew is going up on a crane. Wherever the movie may cut corners, it isn’t in camera setups. Economically creative cinematography almost earns “The Bye Bye Man” an ‘A’ for above average presentation.
Back to the screenplay. That’s where “The Bye Bye Man” leaves an elephant, lion, and bear in the room that there are no ways to ignore.
For all the flaws that are forgivable, an unpardonable sin is that the titular terror isn’t intriguing. The Bye Bye Man’s skinny silhouette and simple hooded robe have him looking like Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw. He doesn’t speak. His dog does any dirty work, which isn’t even very dirty. Worst of all, the Bye Bye Man doesn’t have an origin.
Maybe the source story the film is based on, “The Bridge to Body Island” by Robert Damon Schneck, explains why the Bye Bye Man has a hound of Hell at his side to begin with. Maybe it explains why he rides a ghost train bearing repeating numbers, or drops gold coins on the floor to announce his presence. What we know for certain is that this adaptation explains none of these things, leaving the movie’s main man to be a mishmash of mythology without context. Without context, what exactly is supposed to be scary? Scratch marks etched into brick walls?
Jonathan Penner’s script sets aside space for emotional beats involving Elliot’s older brother and niece, as well as the testy triangle with his other two roommates. However, “The Bye Bye Man” never gets around to doing any essential development on side stories. Characters come off kind of vacuous, more or less functioning as punching bags and pincushions for Bye Bye Man and plot progression to manipulate however they please.
Still, even the collective weight of suspect CGI, underused star power, overly on-the-nose use of “Bye Bye Love” on a car radio, and the oddest relationship any student has ever had with a university librarian, who also has peculiar timing for when to walk in the road, can’t add up to a complete dealbreaker. Why? Because this is par for the course among the film’s potboiler peers.
“The Bye Bye Man” is as good/bad as “Rings” (review here), the first “Ouija” (review here), or any other go-to example of rubber-stamped, studio-style scares. What this means to say is there is a place for this kind of formulaic fright film. That place may not be on the home video shelves of hardcore horror fans. But for online streaming queues with indiscriminate interests in supernatural suspense, it fits as fair filler.
Review Score: 55