Hit supernatural horror film The Bye Bye Man isn’t nearly as bad as you’ve heard
Director Stacy Title’s supernatural horror film The Bye Bye Man was a surprise hit this year, despite the fact that critics raked it mercilessly over the coals. Which goes to show you that critical opinion means little when it comes to box office success, especially with feature films targeted towards young people.
But like plenty of critically-reviled mainstream spook shows, The Bye Bye Man wasn’t worthy of its pile-on internet hate. In fact, for what it is, it’s a stylish, intense and serious genre film with a surprisingly brutal streak. In fact, The Bye Bye Man is a rather depressing affair, which is exactly what it wants to be. The movie is now on Digital HD and hits Blu-ray/DVD on April 11th and it’s well worth a look. In fact, we liked it better than well-reviewed but totally conventional contemporary spook shows like Lights Out (which I hated) or Don’t Breathe (which I liked but found to be rather ordinary and forgettable).
The movie opens with panic and violence, a 1960s-set sequence that sees actor/writer Leigh Whannell (the Insidious films) blowing away his friends and neighbors with a shotgun while muttering “Don’t think it, don’t say it..”. It’s a rather jarring and unsparing bit of nastiness (even nastier in the slightly-longer unrated version, included on this disc) that paves the way for the central story, set in the present day in which a trio of college kids rent a run down house off-campus that’s meant to be fully furnished and it is… except all the furniture is junked up in the basement. Sweet young couple Elliot (Douglas Smith) and Sasha (Cressida Bonas) drag up their finds to their room and among the antiquated pieces is a nightstand table that happens to have those words – “Don’t think it, don’t say it…” scribbled all over the inside of the drawer.
After a boozy housewarming party, Elliot, Sasha and their roomie John (Lucien Laviscount), hook up with a sexy young psychic who senses the bad energy of the place and tries to “cleanse” the abode. Said cleansing includes having sex with John, but the next day, things start to get strange. The kids start to feel ill and begin having volatile and sexual hallucinations and Elliot becomes convinced that they’ve been cursed by a legendary supernatural entity called, yes, you guessed it, “The Bye Bye Man.” As his mind and the minds of his friends begin unraveling, Elliot digs deeper into the mystery, coming to the conclusion that The Bye Bye Man is an entity that spreads like a disease, causing psychosis and death in his victims. And the only way to stop his spread is by murdering anyone else who you’ve spoken his name to… and then killing yourself.
The Bye Bye Man is not particularly scary, but what makes it work is its sincerity and its off-the-wall weirdness. No one behaves rationally in this film and the more surreal things get, the less the characters behave. And while some have cited that as a flaw, I think it’s a strength. By the time Cleo King (Aunt Lou in HBO’s Deadwood) as Mrs. Watkins the librarian shows up, you’re laughing. And when Faye Dunaway appears late in the film, essentially channeling Bette Davis circa Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, you’re basically in another cinematic dimension entirely. Throw in Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) as a tough cop investigating the inexplicable deaths surrounding the house and you have here what might end up eventually being a cool little cult fave.
And how does the boogeyman at the core of the film hold up? The Bye Bye Man himself is effectively imposing, a hooded wraith played by the great Doug Jones (Hellboy, Pan’s Labrynth), slinking around in the shadows with his bloody, undead, brain eating dog. There’s a scene where Jones simply touches a character forehead. Oddly, it’s the best scene in the movie. Because Jones is a physical performer and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t make that simple gesture a minimalist show-stopper.
The Bye Bye Man would play on a nice double bill with the considerably more stripped down It Follows, with the lethal ghost spreading like a virus through a group of friends. The difference being that in It Follows, the spook is an STD and here, it’s more like a cancer, something that plants itself and grows out of control, without reason or emotion.
I liked this film. Despite the PG-13 rating, it’s a very grim and incredibly dark affair where no one comes out unscathed. There’s no deeper purpose or meaning here, it’s just a piece of commercial entertainment whose strongest desire is to create a new franchise horror film character and really, there aint nothing wrong with that. Universal’s Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack looks and sounds great but doesn’t come with a single extra. Shame that.