Without remarking on the quality on the film, it’s safe to say that The Bye Bye Man is victim to one of the most unfortunate titles of recent memory. Sight unseen, The Bye Bye Man has become a meme, a constant source of online mockery because of its simply ludicrous title. Despite the fact that the film has one of the most unfortunate titles of recent memory, there’s a pretty cool concept behind The Bye Bye Man that makes for a modestly entertaining PG-13 horror flick. For every aspect of the film that works there are just as many that don’t, with wooden acting and absurd plot points diluting the most effective jolts that The Bye Bye Man has to offer.
Three college kids move into a creepy home in suburban Wisconsin. Elliot (Douglas Smith) and his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) are joined by Elliot’s best friend from childhood John (Lucien Laviscount) as the trio are eager to abandon the dorm life. Buried along with the furniture in the basement is an end table containing a coin and some writing with the phrase “Don’t think it; don’t say it,” scrawled repeatedly. Beneath the scrawling, etched into the wood is “The Bye Bye Man.” Following a housewarming party, the trio of roommates are joined by Kim (Jenna Kanell), who isn’t quite psychic but “sensitive,” and she performs a séance to rid the house of evil spirits. However, during the séance Elliot says the forbidden phrase and all that hear it are soon subjected to an unsettling form of evil that plagues them wherever they go. It also ties them to a series of murders committed in the late ‘60s by a journalist who was also plagued by the creeping terror of The Bye Bye Man.
Based upon the short story by Robert Damon Schneck, The Bridge to Body Island, the concept behind The Bye Bye Man is really quite fascinating. He’s not a generic boogeyman and the script by Jonathan Penner is really unconcerned with going deeper into the mythology of the creepy creature. What makes it interesting is the fact that saying or thinking his name brings him closer and closer and if anyone utters the name to others they pass on the evil. The Bye Bye Man haunts his victims by misleading them, such as the moment when Sasha says John’s name to Elliot, creating a spark of jealousy among the trio of close friends. The evil that the villain perpetrates is simply nudging people towards devious actions of murder and chaos. It’s a genuinely unsettling concept that never seems fully realized on the screen.
Director Stacy Title does get some really good jolts out of the terror of The Bye Bye Man, but the film never really hits its full stride. Sometimes it seems as if the film is ramping up and then it simply takes its foot off the gas as it takes detours explaining events that work as a precursor to the story. When The Bye Bye Man flashes back to the late ’60s and a journalist driven mad by the terrors of the eponymous boogeyman, the film finds itself with some of its best moments – even if they are moments that contain completely bloodless shotgun blasts in a murder spree.
Adding to the uneven nature of The Bye Bye Man are the performances of its young cast. Douglas Smith’s performance gets better and better as the film’s creepiness escalates. However, the other two young actors, Lucien Laviscount and Cressida Bonas, never shed the wooden apprehension that dominates their onscreen presence. The real standout of the young cast is Jenna Kanell as Kim, turning in a performance that makes the most of her few scenes. The best performances in the film come from the film’s supporting players, such as a brief but strong turn by Carrie-Anne Moss as a police detective or Faye Dunaway in a short but captivating turn as the wife of the journalist driven mad in the past. In a role as the librarian, Cleo King gives a memorable supporting turn that provides the film with a number of laughs before descending into terror.
The Bye Bye Man isn’t as bad as its title might suggest, nor is it a movie that stands among the best that modern horror has to offer. Simply, The Bye Bye Man is an uneven mixture of effective scares and ineffective filler. Especially in January, you could do a lot worse than The Bye Bye Man. If only they would’ve done something about that unfortunate title.
The Bye Bye Man
An uneven piece of horror, The Bye Bye Man features a number of effective jolts amidst some pacing issues in a scary movie that is much better than its unfortunate title suggests.