Horror films have seen somewhat of a resurgence in the last year, in both popularity and quality, with films like the second “Ouija” film, “The Green Room”, “Don’t Breath” and others upping the anti for the modern horror classic in 2016. The first major theatrical horror film of 2017 “The Bye Bye Man” looked to continue that trend with a mysterious figure and an intriguing plot to draw the audience in. For all that “The Bye Bye Man” promised in it impressive marketing however the film is nothing more than a dry, scare-free pool of clichés that not only adds nothing to the horror genre, but is borderline unwatchable even by the most basic standards.
Based on a chapter from the Robert Damon Schneck book “The President’s Vampire”, and led by married Director/Screenwriter duo Stacy Title and Jonathan Penner (the later of which some may recognize as a two-time Survivor contestant) “The Bye Bye Man” focuses on a group of teenagers in college who, after moving in to a new home off campus, discover messages saying “don’t think it, don’t say it” and eventually learn and say the name of the titular antagonist during a seemingly random séance. From there their lives spiral out of control as the four friends begin to experience hallucinations depicting some of their worst fears and vices that force them to suspect each other of different wrongdoings or want to act on dark desires. As the film unfolds we learn more about the Bye Bye Man and how he impacted a writer’s mental state years before, which is depicted in flashbacks, and the effect the Bye Bye Man has on his victims as saying his name spreads his wrath like a disease.
To be bluntly honest there’s almost nothing redeemable about “The Bye Bye Man”. Honestly as a moviegoer I was led to believe through the previews that this film may take a different direction than the rather bland story it chose to tell. On the surface the film seemed as if it would follow a demonic figure that is the root of all negativity in the world and to a very minor extent that premise was incorporated into the film as a throwaway possibility for the figures evil potential. The victims of the Bye Bye Man begin to realize the figure may be behind the insanity and fear that leads to tragic events like shootings and seemingly random murders, but the film does little to nothing with this concept. Instead we see a small group of horribly fleshed out characters closed into the box of their own world having to deal with how the Bye Bye Man is messing with their heads.
There is so much wrong with this film from the characters to the script and even the screenplay. The hallucinations the character see, for the most part, are either tragic in nature or play off of their inner desires. This makes it extremely difficult to invest in these characters and understand who they really are as one minute you feel they deserve punishment, and the next you believe they may have a heart of gold, which would have made for some great character development in itself if these situations weren’t so horribly managed and presented as simple throwaway moments to drive home the sinister nature of the Bye Bye Man with little context behind them. Then there’s the dialogue, which contains some of the clunkiest, most cringe inducing exchanges of any film in recent years. Some exchanges lack subtlety, others lack sincerity and emotion, and others lack any impact at all. It would take me all day to break down how each character and actor fails to do any justice to what little characterization they have, but I honestly don’t have the patience. Suffice it to say the acting is so unbelievable and bland that even it’s most talented stars, like Douglas Smith (who in my opinion is very underrated) and Carrie-Anne Moss, turn in some career low performances. Ironically it’s also these two actors that create the only really well done scene in the movie where we see them interact in an interrogation room with Moss trying to understand more about a figure she doesn’t even know exists and SMith trying not to say the name by explaining the consequences. It’s here, and only here that we see any semblance of true terror some from any character in the film.
Probably the absolute worst sin of all here is that “The Bye Bye Man” is dreadfully unoriginal. Its ghoulish antagonist himself is a massive cliché and we learn very little about him and why he does what he does other than his name spreads his dread like wildfire, quite similar to the video in “The Ring”. In fact nearly every trope in the book is lazily written into around an hour and a half of barely C-level filmmaking that truly made me wonder how it ended up with a theatrical release. Every cliché is accounted for here save for gratuitous bloodshed which may have ironically helped redeem the film even if only on a very minor level.
The horror genre might have been the origin of some of the most creative, effective, and watchable films of the last couple of years, but “The Bye Bye Man” is not one of those films. A step backward for the genre, even a somewhat satisfying twist at the end can’t make up for the bland narrative, cheap attempts at fear, and over dependence on tropes that litter this move. We’ve seen it all before, and we’ve seen it all done so much better than this.