You see my face up there? Yeah. That’s my face when I force myself to think about the shitsack horrorbortion that is The Bye Bye Man for more than three seconds at a stretch. A horror movie released during the dumping ground that is January is bad? I know. You’re shocked.
I liked this movie less than Monster Trucks.
I actually kind of liked Monster Trucks, though.
This generic nothing of a movie is directed by Stacy Title, based on a screenplay by her husband Jonathan Penner, who also plays a supporting role in the film, which is the most obvious turn of events since… the plot of The Bye Bye Man. Three college students—nerdy Elliott (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and his jock best friend John (Lucien Laviscount, whose name is the best part of this movie)—move into a ramshackle old house that, surprise, is haunted! Or sort of haunted, anyway. See, there’s this
blatant Babadook ripoff evil spirit thing NO WAIT I’M STICKING WITH BLATANT BABADOOK RIPOFF who goes by the name “The Bye Bye Man.” A Trump-level narcissist, he hangs around in the ether waiting for people to say his name, after which he haunts the shit out of that person until they’re eventually driven to murder. But the haunting’s on a time delay, so by the time the hauntee realizes they fucked up, they’ve probably already told someone else. Elliott finds a nightstand in the new house that has the name “Bye Bye Man” scratched into its surface, written by the last guy who was haunted, back in the ’60s. And we’re off to the races.
At one point, after Elliot’s figured out what’s going on, he decides to destroy the nightstand (smart!)… by tossing it into the woods a few feet from his house (dumb! Very, very dumb. That is about how people behave in this movie.)
The form the Bye Bye Man’s haunting takes is to slowly drive his victims insane, making them see things and behave strangely while his physical presence remains no more than a hooded, obscured presence hanging out in darkly lit corners. (You know… like the Babadook. Though the Bye Bye Man does occasionally boop people, whereas the Babadook did not.)
I should note here that, obviously, The Babadook is not the first and only horror villain to do the whole “worm into your character’s head” trope. Like. The Candyman exists. And The Bye Bye Man is based on a short story that was first published in 2005. But honestly, look at the Bye Bye Man (top two) and the Babadook (bottom two) and tell me there’s not some element of “that one horror movie did really well two years ago, so let’s rush something similar out.”
The part of the movie where the Beebs is driving his victims slowly bats isn’t terrible compared to the rest of the film. (Specifically, the Bye Bye Man attempts to sow discord in the trio by making Elliott paranoid that Sasha and John are sleeping together, and at the same time makes Sasha hot for John, because this is one horror movie villain who has a rom-com problem and is way too invested in love triangles.) The characters may be cardboard, Cressida Bonas may be an absolutely terrible actress, and Douglas Smith may be a bargain basement version of Charlie Heaton from Stranger Things and Shut In, who is in turn a discount version of Dane DeHaan, but at least there are some intermittent scares.
Things take a turn for the “what the hell am I watching?” when Elliott finally twigs that it’s the Bye Bye Man making him see all these things, at which point it’s time for the movie to go from Scare Mode to Plot Mode. And oh boy. The Bye Bye Man just doesn’t know what the fuck, OK? None of this movie makes any sense. It’s like Title and Penner looked at It Follows and The Babadook and said “I’ll do that,” except he had no clue how to actually do that.
Here is an abridged list of things in The Bye Bye Man that are stupid:
*The Bye Bye Man’s whole thing is that he wants to hear people say his name… but his modus operandi is driving people to kill the people they told his name to before they can tell anyone else, thus breaking the chain and depriving the Bye Bye Man of victims. I don’t think he’s thought this through.
*There’s all this angst in the scene with police detective Carrie Anne Moss (a good enough performance, but she’s in only three scenes) about how Elliott can’t explain why something bad happened, because he can’t say the name “Bye Bye Man” without passing the haunting on to her. Dude, give the guy a nickname! Gary! Dave! Doc McStuffins! I don’t care! Problem solved, movie over.
*There’s all this stuff teased about the mythology of the Bye Bye Man—his presence makes people hear the sound of a train and the sound of coins, plus he has an animal sidekick in the form of the World’s Most Poorly CGed Hellhound— and you think surely Title and Penner will explain it. Except they never do! It all gets dropped. (Which, incidentally, renders the third act devoid of suspense: it’s tough to get invested in how our heroes could possibly beat their tormentor when we don’t know enough about said tormentor to indicate he can be beaten.) A villain doesn’t need a backstory to be scary—sometimes it’s scarier not to have one—but “scary” is still the operative concept, and scary The Bye Bye Man ain’t. This movie tries to gaslight you into thinking its central baddie is actually well-thought-out (and is, presumably, worthy of sequels that God willing won’t happen), when really it’s the most generic crap, both in terms of substance and character design. At least he’s played by Doug Jones.
*Faye Dunaway is in this for one scene. It’s a scene we didn’t need. Its only purpose is to tell Elliott things he’d already figured out and to lead him to a eureka moment about how to defeat the Bye Bye Man that gets rendered moot 10 minutes later. If Faye Dunaway died tomorrow, this would be her last movie.
The Bye Bye Man: not even once. I need a drink.