Happy Halloween: The Bye-Bye Man (2017) Review
Director: Stacey Title
Cast: Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas, Lucien Laviscount, Jenna Kanell, Leigh Whannell, Carrie Anne-Moss, Michael Trucco, Faye Dunaway
The Bye-Bye Man is a movie that uses up all of its creative energy in its opening scene. The film’s opening in the 60s is, I’ll admit, brutally effective, as a timid looking reporter (Leigh Whannell) pulls a shotgun from the back seat of his car and goes on a killing spree, targeting people who know about the titular creature (and the sequence is beautifully filmed in one unbroken shot). People who so much as say or think The Bye-Bye Man’s name are driven mad to the point where they kill the people close to them. If he kills the people who know about the monster and himself right after, well then that would take care of The Bye-Bye Man, yes?
The concept of the movie, based on the short story The Bridge to Body Island by Robert Damon Schneck, is an intriguing one. Done right, the movie could have been a metaphor about the evil that lives inside every person. Everyone has the potential to do unspeakable evil, and how scary would it be to encounter something that could turn you into a threat against the very people you love just by thinking its name? The ingredients are there for not only something frightening, but thought-provoking as well. Unfortunately, once the opening scene finishes, the movie goes downhill fast.
Cut to present day. Three college students – Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and childhood buddy John (Lucien Laviscount) – move into a spooky-looking house off-campus. In one of the upstairs bedrooms, Elliot finds a nightstand with the words “Don’t say it; don’t think it” written all over the drawer liner. He then pulls the drawer liner out, and finds carved into the wood of the drawer The Bye-Bye Man’s name.
We later learn that this particular nightstand belonged to Larry, the shooter from the film’s opening, which makes no sense. Larry went out of his way to kill innocent people in an effort to defeat The Bye-Bye Man. He only targeted people who knew of the monster’s name. That being said, it seems unlikely that a man who would go to such extremes to erase The Bye-Bye Man’s name from the world would carve the creature’s name in wood. And even if he would do something so stupid, wouldn’t he destroy the thing upon learning the power of The Bye-Bye Man’s name?
No matter. Elliot blurts out the monster’s name during a night-time séance that he, John, Sasha, and Sasha’s psychic friend Kim (Jenna Kanell) had after a wild night of partying. Bad things start to happen soon after. John sees maggots falling out of Kim’s eye, Sasha starts coughing, and Elliot begins to suspect that Sasha and John are having an affair. Occasionally, The Bye-Bye Man pops out for a quick jump scare because, well, this is a horror movie. We also see him watching our heroes with a hell-hound brought to life via special-effects that are so bad that they would look phony even in a film from the early 80s.
The screenplay by Jonathan Penner is so frustratingly lazy that he introduces Elliot’s older brother Virgil (Michael Trucco) by establishing the fact that Virgil is Elliot’s brother three times within the span of a minute. First, Virgil comes out of his truck and says “Hey, little brother!” (he actually refers to him as “little brother” a couple of times over the course of the movie), and then his wife comes up to Elliot and tells him how “your brother is always so bad with directions.” And if that wasn’t enough, Virgil’s daughter runs up to Elliot and says, “Uncle Elliot!”
For the most part, it feels as though Penner doesn’t really knows what he’s doing. The movie seems to stress the importance of two coins that keep dropping to the floor, although nothing is ever made of it. The climax of the movie involves the upstairs of the main house catching fire, although the movie never explains how the house caught on fire in the first place. Also, when Elliot figures out the danger of saying or thinking the main baddies’ name, what do you think he does with the night stand that has its name carved into the wood? Does he burn it? Chop it up and bury it? Nope. He simply puts it outside next to the garbage can. It’s such a stupid move on his part that I’m surprised his first thought wasn’t donating it to the local Good Will.
What’s even more curious is the decision by director Stacy Title to show us The Bye-Bye Man in the first place. If he really is supposed to be a metaphor for the evil inside us all, then showing him at all was a huge mistake, especially since the characters are driven mad by hallucinations rather than anything he does to them. He doesn’t really do anything but stand and point and jump out whenever the movie needs a quick jump scare.
The acting is atrocious across the board. Bonas is particularly terrible as Elliot’s girlfriend, but Smith has an unintentionally hilarious scene where he starts singing Bye-Bye Love as he drives down a road at night. Other cast members, including Faye Dunaway Larry’s wife, look completely lost, but the most wasted performance is turned in by Carrie Anne-Moss. She plays a local cop who seems to genuinely want to help Elliot and his friends, but her character never goes anywhere, and the film’s impossibly stupid final scene involves a character, who knows the danger of saying or thinking The Bye-Bye Man’s name, whispering his name in her ear.
The one scene that actually shows any promise at all involves Elliot in an interrogation room with Moss’ character. Their dialogue is at least bearable, and there’s real promise when Elliot asks her if she ever tells her children about the horrible things she sees on the job. This brief moment, as well as the film’s opening scene, give us hints at the movie that could’ve been, but instead we’re stuck with this unholy mess of a horror film.
Final Grade: * (out of ****)
Rated PG-13 for "terror," horror violence, bloody images, sexual content, thematic elements, partial nudity, some language and teen drinking