The Bye Bye Man has received a lot of advance negative buzz in the horror community based upon its silly name. However, it’s not nearly as silly as the title of the book upon which it is based, The Bridge to Body Island. In either case, one of them literal, you probably shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Putting unfair prior conceptions behind me, I admit that I kind of enjoyed the movie. Well, let’s say it wasn’t as bad as I might have expected.
The Bye Bye Man was written by Jonathan Penner and directed by his wife, Stacy Title. In 1995, Title directed Penner as an actor in a terrific black comedy/thriller called The Last Supper. There hasn’t been much output from them since then, and certainly nothing that matches the quality for their first endeavor. In the meantime, Penner was a contestant on three seasons of Survivor and wrote the 2012 book, “Horror Cinema,” with Steven Jay Schneider.
Here, Penner has a cameo as Mr. Daizy, the owner of a house he rents to three college students. Two of them, Elliot (Douglas Smith, Miss Sloane) and John (Lucien Laviscount, Scream Queens) are lifelong best friends. The third, Sasha (newcomer Cressida Bonas), is Elliot’s girlfriend, even though all three are very touchy-feely with each other in nearly every combination.
The house originally belonged to Larry Redmon (Leigh Whannell, Insidious), who, in a terrific 1960’s prologue, goes on a neighborhood shooting spree while vocally repeating, “Don’t think it. Don’t say it.” This prologue shows stylistic promise that doesn’t quite extend beyond the first few minutes of the movie. Through periodic flashbacks, we learn more of Redmon’s story and the supernatural history of “the bye bye man.”
It’s not a spoiler to say this is a variation of Candyman in which saying the creature’s name brings it to life. But “the bye bye man” is not an urban legend. Redmon did everything he could to bury his original experience so that the story/creature could not be resurrected over time. Unfortunately, he carved the name into a bedside table drawer, which is discovered in the basement of Mr. Daizy’s house by Elliot, John and Sasha.
That’s really all you need to know about The Bye Bye Man, and that’s as complex as the story gets. While not completely original, it’s a solid concept. The execution, though, is where the movie suffers. When someone is finally killed, I looked at my watch to see that a full hour had passed. With only about thirty minutes to go, there couldn’t be a way for the movie to satisfactorily ramp up the action and end the last third in proportion to the first two-thirds.
I fell into some gaping plot holes and was totally pulled out of the movie when Faye Dunaway appeared late in the movie as Widow Redman. After realizing that Faye Dunaway is still alive, I became obsessed with the fact that Faye Dunaway was in The Bye Bye Man. The Oscar winner and multiple-nominee looked great, but no amount of expert thespian skills could compensate for those lacking in the performance of Cressida Bonas.
The most interesting aspect is the relationship between the three roommates. As mentioned, they’re awfully close to begin with. When the bye bye man causes them to see things that aren’t there, and to not see things that are there, jealously rears its ugly head as Elliot thinks John is sleeping with Sasha, and Sasha thinks John is Elliot. It results in a twist, I guess, because two women in the audience shrieked, but even though I didn’t see it coming, I was not surprised.
I guess the bye bye man itself is pretty creepy. Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth) brings the tall, cloaked figure to life in only a handful of scenes. The story is more about the impending threat of the bye bye man than the character itself. Its companion, though, a dog/beast thing, is the very definition of bad CGI… as are the flames that escape the roof of the house at the end of the movie. The Bye Bye Man doesn’t quite go down in flames with it, but it certainly smolders.