The title should have given it away. No movie with “bye bye” as part of its name could ever conceivably be scary, right? Not less one rated PG-13 (it was inexplicably elevated to a 16 in the UK even though the deaths are pathetically safe and strangely bloodless). And yet, The Bye Bye Man, the very first, big, wide horror release of 2017, is worse than we could have ever imagined. So, so much worse.
The action kicks off, for no real reason, in a bizarrely sun-bleached version of 1969. A wild opening, the audio for which echoes so hard it was most certainly captured on an airplane hangar-sized sound-stage, sees a crazed man with a loaded gun taking out friends and neighbours with cold efficiency, all the while yelling about not telling anyone else. It’s a bizarre opening that does nothing to establish the titular villain.
We then cut to the present day, where a trio of dull college students (two out of three are white) are shacking up together in a creaky old house that is scary precisely because it is old. Before someone can yell “he’s behind you!” they’re holding hands by candlelight trying to talk to the dead and soon Himself is summoned via a drawer and some coins (no, really) to animate dressing gowns and point at them and do all sorts of other very spooky things.
The Bye Bye Man is not a good horror movie. Plainly speaking, it’s not a good movie. Director Stacy Title makes some bizarre choices with framing and locating scenes, the editing is increasingly haphazard as the thing trundles towards its inevitable conclusion, scenes cutting off as characters are mid-sentence, while the script is beyond clunky, the score is oddly mawkish and the performances vary from shrill to borderline comatose.
Lead Douglas Smith (Stage Fright, TV’s Vinyl) gives it his all as the likeable, tormented Elliott but he’s fighting against a remarkably strong crap current. He’s under-supported by Scream Queens‘ Lucien Laviscount as his supposed best buddy since childhood (they seem to hate each other), while girlfriend Sasha barely exists as inhabited by Cressida Bonas, an actor who seems to be learning her lines for the first time with the cameras already rolling.
There’s also a stereotypical goth girl, and a brother character named Virgil who’s interesting by virtue of being named Virgil. Shockingly, Faye Dunaway and Carrie Anne Moss both make fleeting, embarrassed cameos. Go figure. Much of the movie plays as unintentionally hilarious, particularly taking into account that it takes place in the same town as Goosebumps (arguably a scarier flick in itself).
At the centre of this boring mess is the reliably brilliant Doug Jones, who looks incredibly creepy as The Bye Bye Man himself. He’s ghoulishly intimidating, and although hints at his mythology provoke a certain spine-tingling eerieness, the movie can’t keep track of what his powers are or how he comes to be, nor does it take steps to explore who (or what) he is. And the less said about his utterly unconvincing CGI canine companion, the better.
The thing is, without Jones in the role, it would just be The Man (a scarier name, for sure). The hugely talented, very physical performer and star of such wide-ranging fare as Pan’s Labyrinth and last year’s Ouija: Origin Of Evil lends the material more gravitas and scare appeal than it has any right to claim. He is The Bye Bye Man. And he’s at his scariest just standing in the background, making his presence known only to us.
He is a frightening physical entity, but he’s underused–particularly considering the make-up work is so good. And the fact The Bye Bye Man keeps inhabiting a weird robe hanging on the wall (it looks like something one would wear to a Satanic ritual) when the kids could just, you know, take it down suggests his character wasn’t completely thought through beyond looking scary.
This idea is further compounded in the final act, when a character cries out that, without their fear, The Bye Bye Man has no power (now, where have we heard that before?). Not only can the movie not keep track of its own mythology, every cliché is trotted out, and it seems to be borrowing from anywhere and everywhere too, to top it all off–the ending even recalls Lights Out, albeit with a less dodgy angle.
Although it’s unlikely to be the most offensively terrible horror movie you’ll ever see, if you happened to catch a glimpse of that Photoshopped poster that was knocking around on social media, which saw the movie re-titled as The Pee Pee Poo Poo Man, well, you should have a pretty good indication of what to expect here.
Pray there isn’t a sequel. Don’t say it, don’t think it, don’t watch it.
WICKED RATING: 2/10
Director(s): Stacy Title
Writer(s): Jonathan Penner, Robert Damon Schneck
Stars: Doug Jones, Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas
Release: January 13, 2017
Studio/ Production Co: Intrepid Pictures
Length: 97 minutes