The Bye Bye Man

Meet the thrift shop version of Candyman. Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Carrie-Anne Moss and Academy Award winner Faye Dunaway star in The Bye Bye Man.

The Bye Bye ManCast of Characters:
Elliot – Douglas Smith
John – Lucien Laviscount
Sasha – Cressida Bonas
The Bye Bye Man – Doug Jones
Virgil – Michael Trucco
Kim – Jenna Kanell
Mrs. Watkins – Cleo King
Larry Redmon – Leigh Whannell
Det. Shaw – Carrie-Anne Moss
Widow Redmon – Faye Dunaway

Director – Stacy Title
Screenplay – Jonathan Penner
Based on the book The President’s Vampire by Robert Damon Schneck
Producer – Simon Horsman, Trevor Macy & Jeffrey Soros
Rated PG-13 for terror, horror violence, bloody images, sexual content, thematic elements, partial nudity, some language and teen drinking

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Three college students – Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and his best friend John (Lucien Laviscount) – have move into the rental home of their dreams. It’s old and looks like it’s smothered in the DNA of every victim that most likely has been brutally murdered inside it, but they’re young and dumb, and most importantly, this horror film goes nowhere if these three had at least half a functioning brain.

After finding the furniture that’s been left for them by the owner in the basement, Elliot stumbles across some bizarre writing scratched inside a nightstand: The Bye Bye Man. Though curious by what he found, Elliot is by no means superstitious, and just flippantly mentions the name to his friends.

Big mistake.

Once the name has been uttered, the three find themselves the targets of said Bye Bye Man’s (Doug Jones) wrath, and the curse he inflicts upon them is one they can’t avoid no matter how hard they tell themselves, “Don’t think it. Don’t say it.”

2016 was a horrid year for movies. Throughout the entire year, from January to December, moviegoers have been pummeled by a tsunami of cinematic crap that turns my job into the ultimate trial of faith. But 2016’s over, and now, feeling a bit shown up and with the ball in its court, 2017 just looked at 2018 and said, “Hold my beer. Watch this.”

Tada! The Bye Bye Man – a film so unfathomably inept, like the characters they’re watching, even viewers will succumb to the horrified, frantic chanting of “Don’t think it! Don’t say it! Don’t think it! Don’t say it!” in hopes of erasing this crap-fest from their memories.

Yes, readers, we are definitely in the cold, unforgiving grips of January, aka the dumping grounds of Hollywood.

No joke, I am, honestly at a loss for words as to how this film managed to get a wide theatrical release. Which studio head at STX Entertainment was the victim of blackmail nudie pics by director Stacy Title and her screenwriting husband Jonathan Penner? That’s the only plausible explanation ’cause The Bye Bye Man barely passes as one of those cheap, shitty, slapped together horror films you stumble upon in your Netflix queue ’cause you’ve watched so many of them for your “What the Hell Were They Thinking?!” segment, it now assumes you think they’re all 5 star-rated flicks.

As Boromir would say, one does not simply just slap together some “BOO!” moments and make a good horror film. You need one of two things for your horror film to succed – have characters you can care about, create a terrifying villain, or if you’re exceptionally talented, you can take a stab at combining the two like A Nightmare on Elm Street. You need at least one, though – characters worth our emotional investment or the bad-ass baddie – yet The Bye Bye Man fails miserably at both.

Reportedly, The Bye Bye Man, which is based on one chapter, “The Bridge to Body Island”, out of Robert Damon Schneck’s book The President’s Vampire, originally intended to be R-rated, but the studio whittling it down to a teen-friendly PG-13 meant bye-bye to any blood and gore. Not that being PG-13 means you’ve automatically damned your horror film to failure. Poltergeist, The Ring, and last year’s surprisingly entertaining Lights Out are three examples off the top of my head of horror films that managed to work within the restraints of either the PG or PG-13 rating (Poltergeist was released prior to the introduction of the PG-13 rating, and I’m most certain it would’ve been bumped up to it had it have been released afterward). Rate it R, PG-13, NC-17 – hell, G for general audiences for all I care ’cause the rating is irrelevant. No amount of blood and gore added could save this film. This is a case of everyone involved giving the least amount of effort possible, and holy hell, does it show in every single frame.

The most frustrating thing that’s wrong with this picture is that I walked out of it still having absolutely no idea what the point of this film was. Jonathan Penner’s script gives us a villain, Bye Bye Man (needless to say, a dumb hokey name) and shows us what he can do – he can make people hallucinate, drive them insane enough to go on a killing spree and loves to boop people on the forehead. The problem is that Penner gives us no context to his villain. What’s his motive? Why is he hell-bent on haunting people that call out his drunkenly conceived name? What is the meaning to the recurring visions of trains characters keep having, or coins that mysteriously appear when Bye Bye Man is near? Why does he have a demon dog (one of the most poorly designed CGI effects you’ll see this year)? I could go on and on. Reasons are never given and clarity is never reached. That’s truly a shame too given that Doug Jones is an extremely talented physical actor who’s done great work for Guillermo del Toro in both Hellboy films (Abe Sapien) and Pans Labyrinth (Faun / Pale Man), but here his efforts are wasted toward a meaningless villain.

Take Freddy Krueger, for example. Like The Bye Bye Man’s hook of never thinking or saying the titular monster’s name, A Nightmare on Elm Street had a simple hook: Don’t fall asleep or Krueger will get you. It was a hook that worked wonders knowing the toll physically, emotionally and psychologically sleep deprivation would have on the teenage protagonists, and the suspense intensified as it began to wear on them. But even that aside, hook or no hook, Wes Craven at least gave his monster motive. We knew who Freddy was. We knew why he was wreaking havoc on the minds of these teenagers, and the subtext found within Craven’s script just elevated the story all the more.

With Bye Bye Man, all I learned from him is that he apparently likes to dress like an Old Navy model.

Also puzzling, Penner sets up key plot elements and then just suddenly abandons them. In the beginning, it’s revealed that Elliot’s parents died when he was young. That tidbit of information is harped on extensively during a séance scene, which leads you to believe it’s gonna lead to a crucial moment in the film later on, but that’s just one of Penner’s many roads that lead to nowhere. Or it could be Elliot himself has forgotten ’cause these are some incredibly stupid characters. How do you expect us to believe that Elliot is this bright, young man with a college scholarship when he’s dumb enough to fall for every mind game the Bye Bye Man throws at him, despite knowing the monster is capable of such manipulative trickery?

Believe it or not, that’s not the worst case of his idiocy. No, that prize goes to a tie. The first comes when he’s trying to save a friend from killing herself and, with witnesses all around to watch him, grabs a bloody hammer out of her purse and chases after her. The dumb-ass implicates himself in a crime he didn’t even commit. Then, if you’re still not convinced, you’ll firmly be converted when he finally decides to stick it to Bye Bye Man by taking the nightstand and burning it? Nope. Chopping it up into pieces? Nope, he tosses it out in the backyard, about 15-20 feet away from his house.

Ooooh, that’ll show him!

Director Stacy Title drags the film even further down into the abyss with a production value that at best can be described as piss-poor. Forget the story and acting for a second. This film can’t even score points on bare minimum competence. It’s never a good sign when most of your budget probably went toward an animated dog whose CGI pre-dates first release Duke Nukem. While Penner deserves a good portion of the blame for the film’s lack of tension due his script’s lack of sense, Title stages sequences meant to be intense and frightening awkwardly, which in turn produces a level of hilarity I’m sure she did not intend. The most glaring example is when Saw and Insidious alum Leigh Whannell goes on a shooting rampage in the film’s opening flashback scene. Due to the film’s rating being lowered to PG-13, all the bloodshed has been significantly tamed. Actually, completely erased is more like it. What should be a violent multiple homicide is reduced to what might as well be an amateur high school stage production. I mean, you see him there, center of the screen, plain as day, point a shotgun directly at this girl and blast a hole right through her, yet when she falls to the ground there’s not a single drop of blood on her, around her – hell, her clothes aren’t even damaged.

Those are some fast working platelets.

Taking the amateur hour cake, however, is the cast. These performances stink like an ass that’s about to take the IBS beating of a lifetime. Even adding talent like Carrie-Anne Moss (yep, Matrix fans, that’s Trinity) and Oscar-winner Faye Dunaway doesn’t alleviate matters ’cause both actresses are given nothing to work with. Moss gets to play the world’s dumbest cop and Dunaway gets to be the brief, obligatory exposition dump that ends up explaining nothing other than just telling Elliot to shoot his friends and then himself. The three main leads fare even worse. Sure, there’s not much you can do when your lobotomized characters have a combined IQ of a rock, but being gifted characters from the Coen brothers couldn’t improve these cringe-worthy performances. Cressida Bonas can barely sneeze convincingly, much less hide her British accent, and to make matters worse, delivers her lines as if she was knocked out on suppressants for the entire shoot. Her zombified performance is countered on the other extreme by Douglas Smith, who after making nothing but smoldering stares in the first-act like he’s posing for the GQ cover, must’ve hit a mound of coke hard ’cause he’s in blast the fuck off mode for the rest of the film.

Seeing Smith scream out The Everly Brothers’s “Bye Bye Love” (subtlety is overrated) as if he’s in the midst of a nervous breakdown is almost worth wasting your time watching this whole film just so you can see that one scene.

At some point in the movie, I stopped viewing it as a horror film, and decided to think of it as an anti-drug PSA. It goes from being one of the worst horror films I’ve ever seen to one of the funniest comedies I’ve ever seen.

I’m sure that was the cast and crew’s intention.

The Bye Bye Man is guilty of many film sins – sloppy writing, amateurish production, poor acting, the list goes on. However, no sin committed by this shoo-in for worst of the year is more grave than the simple fact that it’s just not scary. When it’s not boring us with its fallback on overused trappings of the genre, it’s confusing us with its utter incompetence in regard to story and character. That, for us, is what you call a lose-lose situation.

Don’t think it. Don’t say it… Only thing the tagline is missing is don’t see it.

I give The Bye Bye Man an F (0 stars).

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