The Bye Bye Man (review)

It’s January the month of misfit movies. That means it’s that time of year where Hollywood dumps mediocre movies in between the star studded awards contenders that are finally getting wide releases.  So naturally we start out the year with a horror release strangely titled “The Bye Bye Man”.

The movie is about 3 college students who rent a house and find a drawer with the name “The Bye Bye Man” written in it. Soon after a ghoulish entity begins to haunt the students driving them towards insanity after they discover and utter his name.

It’s a simple enough premise, the killer urban legend is familiar ground, especially to those well versed in the horror genre. Funny enough the film really gave off some serious early mid 2000’s horror vibe. You have an urban legend based entity that is reminiscent of villains such as the Creeper (Jeepers Creepers), the Fisherman (I Know What You Did Last Summer), and The Boogeyman from it’s synonymously titled film. Then you have your stereotypical character archetypes: the good girlfriend who’s secretly not-so-good, the Black womanizing jock bestfriend, the goth chick who’s into the occult, and the naive good boy lead.

I have to say right off the bat, that when I first heard the title of this movie I laughed at it’s name. “The Bye Bye Man” sounds like a boogeyman kindergartners would come up with. “Bye Bye Man” just doesn’t have the striking sound that Krueger, Voorhees, or even Baghul does. Names are tricky, and I’m sure there was a way to make this name creepy, but unfortunately the film never does find one. While I found the name ridiculous, the trailer on the other hand held a little bit of promise but ultimately it felt like something that would come out on direct-to-video release and it was a feeling that wasn’t quelled when I ultimately saw the film.

` First off, there surprisingly are some positives. There are some glimpses of potential within the film, tiny snippets that were genuinely interesting to watch. For example there is a few flashback scenes that jump to 1969 where a man (played by Leigh Whannell) is hunting people in his neighborhood with shotgun for knowing the name “Bye Bye Man”. The scene is creepy, tense, and well filmed as this nebbish man full of remorse and reluctance guns down friends and neighbors. Unfortunately that’s the movie’s high point, the rest teeters on the verge of mediocre and barely watchable.

I will say that overall the movie is filmed in a relatively decent manner, especially for such a mediocre story. While the pacing drags, and there are problems with the overall approach to storytelling, the cinematography and some of the direction makes the film bearable to sit through.

Douglas Smith does a decent job with the material given to him. He is sympathetic enough as a lead and pulls off the most convincing performance of the main cast. Leigh Whannell as the crazed journalist killing his neighbors was pretty good in the small role he had, in fact the scenes with him in it made me wish I was watching those events unfold instead.

Tragically that’s where the positives end. The movie is riddled with problems like poor and inconsistent acting from the rest of the cast, the slow pacing, and a frustratingly inconsistent story. Tonally the movie takes itself way too seriously, especially when you have a villain with “bye bye” in the name. There is a small point at the beginning within the flashback in which Whannell’s character asks a neighbor if she told anyone else the name, and  she chuckles and says that she told her husband about the amusing name. In that moment the movie for a split second was a bit self aware. But after that moment no character ever questions that name again, they just kinda accept it.

The story by far is the biggest problem with the film. Not only is the story very weak , it seems to go out of it’s way to obfuscate plot points that seem necessary to the overall story and to the development of the characters. A lot of the missing information was stuff pertaining to the Bye Bye Man himself, which is an egregious crime to commit in the horror genre.

One of the most important aspects for a horror film with an entity, villain, or monster is to establish the “rules” by which this creature operates. It helps orient the audience in terms of knowing the motivations of the creature, and what’s at stake for the characters if they aren’t able to stop the creature. You don’t have to explain every detail of the creature, or it’s entire background but there still definitely has to be something, otherwise you’re left with a confusing mess as is the case in The Bye Bye Man. We don’t know who or what the Bye Bye Man is, let alone why he hunts those who utter or think his name, we don’t even know why he has that absurd sounding name. Not only that but issues like a constant train motif that coincides with visions of the Bye Bye Man, or the purpose of a skinned hound that follows the Bye Bye Man, are totally left untouched. There are a plethora of other questions that aren’t answered or even alluded to.

Another glaring problem this movie had was how apparent it was that this film was castrated to get a PG-13 rating. I’m not against PG-13 horrors, there have been some good ones in the past, but this movie obviously had scenes cut or trimmed down. No scene was more blatant than one of the shotgun murders. Whannell’s character levels his shotgun at the torso of woman backed against a wall. They are in extremely close proximity, and yet when he fires the gun and the victim flies back and hits the wall, she falls away leaving a bloodless scene. It’s so shocking, and mind numbingly stupid that it took me out of the movie immediately.

Perhaps the most tragically criminal thing this movie is guilty of is underusing the amazing Doug Jones, who plays the titular villain. He is an amazing character actor, and is known for giving stunning performances underneath layers of latex. I was partly motivated to see this film because I read that he was going to be in it. Sadly his character is giving nothing to work with aside from just looming in corners and pointing his index finger at different characters.

Overall there’s not much to this forgettable film. Aside from one interesting scene that held potential, it’s just a jumbled mutilated mess of a movie that’s confusing to watch. “The Bye Bye Man” isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, it’s at very least watchable, but that doesn’t mean it’s entertaining nor is it worth a watch.

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