In all cinema there is much to be said for originality and atmosphere, yet in horror it is the latter which is the more important. Playing upon primal fears and early memories, a horror film can remain effective even when familiar so long as it is sufficiently well crafted. Conversely, featuring an entity which manifests through the repetition of its name, there is precious little worthwhile to say about The Bye Bye Man.
Opening with a mass shooting in Madison, Wisconsin in October of 1969, the frantic killer demanding of his family “Did you tell anyone?” before gunning them down, the scene is most notable in that, even recreated in modern times, women in horror in the sixties are apparently incapable of running properly when pursued by an assailant.
Moving to the present day faster than anyone can say “Candyman” five times, students Elliot, Sasha and John (Antiviral’s Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas and Scream Queen’s Lucien Laviscount) move into their new accommodation, a large house whose size is far beyond their needs or their apparent means given that none are apparently employed and that Elliot is on a scholarship.
Leased to them as furnished, all said furniture is stored in the basement, a plot point of exasperating uselessness which serves no purpose other than to demonstrate the house has a basement which does not feature further in the story. Having moved the furniture to the correct rooms (fortunately without a “setting the house up” montage), a housewarming party is arranged which features such moments as heartwarming life lessons between John and his elder brother Virgil (Battlestar Galactica’s Michael Trucco) and a cleansing of the house.
The others having departed, it is only Elliot, Sasha and John who are present when Kim (Jenna Kanell, her character established as “the girl from lit class who wears a hat in the house”) conducts a séance and stumbles upon a phrase – “don’t think it, don’t say it” – which upsets the sceptical Elliot who earlier found it written over and over in the drawer of his bedside table, with a name scratched in the wood beneath, “the Bye Bye Man.”
Directed by The Last Supper’s Stacy Title from a script by her husband Jonathan Penner based on The Bridge to Body Island by Robert Damon Schneck, the sophistication and varied characters of that challenging satire are seemingly abandoned in another era, here replaced by endless scenes of wandering around the semi-lit house in search of the source of mysterious sounds.
The paranoia and hallucinations strong pointers towards The Amityville Horror, the difficulty with seeing changes in behaviour is that none of the leads are given the opportunity to display any personality before the supposed horror begins, the extent of Elliot’s development being his range of hip band t-shirts, Joy Division, the Dead Kennedys and the Violent Femmes, which is more than either his girlfriend of best friend receive.
Desperately wishing to be the latest bogeyman-du-jour, the Bye Bye Man is not the new Freddie or Jason, nor even the new Bughuul, rather he is the Silence, so keen to insert his mantra into the minds of his victims because otherwise he would be forgotten as soon as they turn their backs, given no backstory, no purpose and no reason to jangle gold coins or have a demonic dog for a sidekick other than it seemed a good idea to someone at the time.
With highlights including a daring and stereotype busting gay florist (gasp!) and a generic non-proprietary search engine (“search”) which returns zero results for “bye bye man,” nor even results for “bye” and “man,” The Bye Bye Man is little more than an unwanted retelling of White Noise: The Light by way of China Miéville’s Buscard’s Murrain and the supporting roles from Sons of Anarchy’s Cleo King, Jessica Jones’ Carrie-Ann Moss and Hollywood legend Faye Dunaway are insufficient to redeem it.
While Sasha ponders whether their super stalker is real or whether she and her housemates are all losing their minds at the same time, no consideration is given to the audience collectively losing their will to live. Poorly lit and filmed in shades of murky grey, The Bye Bye Man’s greatest wonder is how any film can be so insufferably dull. Fear not, for nobody will be repeating this name in the future.