Well, here is my first review of 2017, and unfortunately, we have to start in January—the dumping grounds for films that studios know are awful, will probably not make money, and will most likely be savaged by critics like me.
On the other hand, some good films such as Scanners, Cloverfield, Carol, and Anomolisa, have had January releases, so a film can’t always be judged by its release date. But I took the liberty of doing some research before the screening of The Bye Bye Man, and found out that its release date had been pushed back several times. Oh boy, there’s a red flag!
Three college friends, Elliot, Shanna, and John, move into a house, which, we learn in the prologue, is the site where a handful of people were murdered in the sixties. While getting settled in, Elliot comes across a nightstand that has the phrase ”Don’t think it, don’t say it” written on it over and over, ending with the phrase, “The Bye Bye Man.” After a strange happening witnessed by Shanna during the night, they invite a gothic friend to perform a séance. When the séance starts taking a turn for the worst, Elliot utters the “the Bye Bye Man,” thereby summoning him, and causing strange things to happen.
The need for a delayed release date is apparent, because this film is poorly executed in almost every way possible—it is not well put together and lacks originality, and the acting is unconvincing.
For example, the characters will know the Bye Bye Man is coming when they see a train, two coins, a nightstand, or a hound. It almost feels as though the screenwriter just looked at random objects in his den and incorporated them into a bizarre story with a setup that rivals M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water. The incoherence in this film is further is worsened by a surprising lack of establishing shots for many important scenes.
Plot aside, many elements of this film seem as if they were lifted from other films. The main group of kids—a white boy, a white girl, and a Hispanic boy—bears a shocking resemblance to the group of kids in Don’t Breathe. At one point, Elliot’s older brother, holding his daughter in his arms, closely resembles Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Okay, obviously, a horror film of this caliber wouldn’t make intentional references like that, but with little to get invested in, how could a film buff not see the similarity? And, when a detective, played by Carrie Anne-Moss, is trying to force Elliot to say the villain’s name, he delivers a speech similar to Ben Affleck’s “Don’t take my wings!” speech from Pearl Harbor, even including the phrase “Ma’am, please.” The Bye Bye Man himself looks like an extra from Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead. Now THAT is scary.
The only thing scarier than villains stolen from Uwe Boll is the atrocious acting. It looks as if the actors caught the flu and the director just filmed their scenes regardless. And unfortunately for these actors, the characters they play are both idiotic and uncharismatic. As for star power, in addition to Carrie-Ann Moss, Faye Dunaway makes an appearance. And I thought Dunaway couldn’t sink any lower than Dunston Checks In.
Looking at the notes I took for this film, there were attempts at humor that don’t succeed, and some unintentional hilarious moments. Examples of failed humor include the Hispanic of the group pointing out that the China in the house is white, and a florist embarrassingly named “Mr. Daisy.” In terms of unintentional laughs, the director doesn’t seem to understand how cell phones work, because there is a dial tone when someone hangs up. Even in sound design, it fails.
To talk about the ending, I need to include some spoilers. You have been warned. One of the plot points of the film is that the Bye Bye Man is able to play with your senses and make you see things and people that aren’t there. This ability makes its way into the climax, which results in the accidental deaths of some key characters. This scene is clumsily directed, and this plot device feels tacked on, which made me feel cheated. If you do see this film, feel free to comment here and explain the ending to me. Also, kudos to the audience member at my screening who shouted, “Where is the blood?” when one of the characters gets shot. (Watching a bad film with a loud audience does have its benefits.)
So, is there anything positive in this film? Well, there are maybe one or two good thrills, and they occur within the first act. For example, when the hound first appears, it is merely a set of eyes peeking out of a shadow, which is admittedly a terrifying image. Sadly, that image is ruined when we see the hound in its true form, i.e., an embarrassing overuse of CGI.
Similar to 2014’s Ouija, The Bye Bye Man was helmed by an inexperienced director, is poorly acted, and tells a hard-to-believe story where the villain’s origins are left unclear. While Ouija was subsequently explained through a far superior prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil, I don’t think I want to see a prequel to The Bye Bye Man, thank you.
There are plenty of unintentional laughs to be found in this film, but none that are worth paying $12+. At one point, Elliot asks, “Do you want to watch something stupid?” If your answer to that is “yes,” wait until it goes on demand. For now, though, if you think you want to ask your friends to see The Bye Bye Man in theaters this weekend, heed its warning; Don’t think it, don’t say it.