The Bye Bye Man is an awful January horror movie. Sure, that’s pretty common. Many a terrible horror movie is dumped in January. Last week saw Underworld: Blood Wars dawning into theaters, to satiate those who don’t have any interest in seeing the wider expansion of 2016 Oscar fodder like Silence or Jackie. Most going into Underworld knows what they’re getting and they pretty much get it. The Bye Bye Man deceptively calls itself a horror movie. A spooky series of scares that’ll deliver some kind of cheap frights. But The Bye Bye Man is too frugal for even the cheapest jump scares. It makes one pine for films like The Forest or The Boy that at least strove for a gimmick and atmosphere, even if they ultimately failed at it. The Bye Bye Man strives for the bare minimum to make a horror movie and fails even at that.
The central “Boogey Man” character of The Bye Bye Man is one with a rather underwhelming mythology. One where characters are encouraged to forget about him, so as to ward him off. Sort of feels like the film intending to endear the audience by a mutual desire to forget this happened. There is the threatening aspect of him being an idea that destroys the mind, which seems solid in theory. One that could play on the psychology of our leads. Unfortunately, those leads lack any sufficient brain power to enable such psychological torture. They’re too bland as a whole to facilitate that. Elliot (Douglas Smith) is jealous of his buddy being close to his girlfriend and is diligently researching The Bye Bye Man for the sake of exposition. His buddy John (Lucien Laviscount) is weirded out by Elliot’s research of The Bye Bye Man. Sasha (Cressida Bonas) has some kind of cold. That’s about the extent we get for character here.
To fill up time we could get making us care about any of these three blocks of wood, The Bye Bye Man decides to stuff the plot with extensive exposition on our titular bad guy. Filling in the gaps with extensive library research scenes that feel incredibly old hat for a modern horror films. These lead into some rather poorly put together flashbacks that are scattered throughout. Flashbacks that attempt to let Insidious screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannell turn out the type of performance that made him an especially grating element of the first Saw. His scenes of stomping around, maddeningly killing to preserve the lack of knowledge on The Bye Bye Man is about as low rent a The Conjuring rip off as one could get. It’s somehow even more low rent than Annabelle ended up being.
Regardless, these low rent scenes never give us much of an actual menace to hang The Bye Bye Man‘s stupid coat on. The classic killers of yore prayed on specific disturbing implications. Jason Voorhees festered from the idea of being ostracized from other kids in social situations. Freddy Krueger prayed on fears of child death and being attack while you sleep. The Bye Bye Man prays on the fear of… knowing his name. Nothing about his past or what someone thinks of when they think of his name. Just… his name. There’s no fear based in anything concrete or relatable. It’s just an exercise in trying to come up with a Bloody Mary style legend to repeat this name over and over again in marketing material. And then stuffing this slightly pale dude in a hoodie into awkward jump scares as a lame excuse for a horror film.
The most terrifying aspects of The Bye Bye Man are the few genuine talents that pop up in clear need of a paycheck. Doug Jones does literally the least amount of work he could possibly do to create any sort of menace for the titular villain. Carrie Anne Moss pops up as a detective to make one of the more laughable moments of hallucination a reality. Faye Dunaway even pops up to sit in a chair, spout exposition and catch fire in perhaps the worst digital fire effect shots I’ve seen in the last few years… which only ends up being there for a brief dream scare that doesn’t even matter in any context.
These few moments of unintentional laughter are an oasis of joy in between the mind numbing awfulness of The Bye Bye Man. The ineptitude on display here is subpar for even a direct to video production. During the dawn of the a slasher film, critics damned the genre as the reason that cinema was a dying artform. These people had no idea what the post-slasher boom would unleash, as films like The Bye Bye Man show far more of a threat to the idea of cinematic horror than anything Jason, Freddy or their subsequent knock offs would do. The damage of The Bye Bye Man is one of total creative bankruptcy in the horror genre, taking the basic outline of a horror film and adding little else to make it worthy of being filmed for anyone to see, let alone a theater full of people. Even a crowd ready to lap up a January horror film. Those people deserve better than The Bye Bye Man.
Rating: 0.5 out of 5 CG Hounds
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