“The Bye Bye Man” (2017): A Disappointing Blemish on the Face of Horror

“Don’t Think It! Don’t Say It!” The Bye Bye Man opens up tons of negative opportunities with both the title and its tag line. Given how terrible the film is, it is almost too easy…too tempting.

The film falls flat on its face, stumbling aimlessly along with an erratic handling of its premises and concepts, some of which are promising and worthy of exploration. While the direction by Stacy Title and the cinematography by James Kniest are sharp enough, the over expository story by Jonathan Penner and the befuddled acting (Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas) hinder the film tremendously. Even a cameo role by the great Faye Dunaway can do little to salvage this mess. The film does develop a sense of humor about itself along the way but, unfortunately, none of it feels intentional. Reportedly, the film was originally set to be an R-rated October entry with special effects by Robert Kurtzman; but, in its delivered PG-13 cut, it contains an awkward combination of violence and lack of bloodshed with practical effects work displayed only with the Bye Bye Man himself. Even his hound – which could have been a kick ass practical effect – is a shambling, laughable CGI blunder. To the film’s credit, there are whispers of a good idea contained within, shadows of what could have been, perhaps. The uneven tone and unfocused approach to the horror suggests a few cooks too many in developing the final release. In the end, The Bye Bye Man is a black eye on the genre, an early contender for worst film of the year.

The core concept of The Bye Bye Man is a variation on urban myths, in this case, a boogie-man, a grim reaper of sorts, who distorts the reality of his victims until they kill themselves once they know of his existence. Hence the repetitious chanting of “Don’t Think It! Don’t Say It!” The only way to stop it, according to the prologue, it to destroy anyone who has heard the name. Three friends step into the madness when they rent an old furnished home just off campus. Elliot (Douglas Smith) and John (Lucien Laviscount) are childhood friends and Sasha (Cressida Bonas) is Elliot’s cute, but boring, girlfriend. Before long, Elliot discovers the name that must not be muttered scrawled into the drawer of a night stand. The Bye Bye Man descends upon the trio and all they share the monster’s name. Slowly, they begin to see and hear things that haunt their reality leading them to violent ends.

On rare occasion, director Stacy Title displays the film’s potential. In one scene, Elliot’s young niece ends up in the top floor bedroom which has two small doors leading to attic crawl spaces, just the right size doors to attract a curious young child. As she opens one door to peak inside, the other door across the room creaks open with something stepping out into the light. It’s an unnerving beginning. Once the Bye Bye Man’s name is said aloud by Elliot, the shadowy creature can be seen in the shadows and dark corners behind the characters as they search the house following sounds and noises. A horror trope for certain, but deftly handled showing signs of an disquieting tone and atmosphere. But, from there, nothing truly horrifying – or even mildly frightening – emerges or develops. The story falls into an expository loop explaining itself over and over without building toward anything worth while. The Bye Bye Man himself is provided a fractured, confusing back-story that diminishes his character: the sound of a train, the hell-hound companion. Once the effects of the Bye Bye Man are full swing, the film become a silly exercise in routine, unimaginative nonsense never properly capitalizing on the conflicts and descent that comes with a fractured reality, fighting to determine what is real and what is imagined.

It does not help that the acting in the film is so off the concept that it feels miscast, confusing and cartoonish. The leads come across as if they’re acting in an entirely different film. Perhaps, to their defense, this is due to the poor editing, bad dialog, or re-cutting the film for PG-13 rating. At first, the three friends (Smith, Laviscount, Bonas) are inoffensive enough, seeming like a believable trio of close friends. The film even sets up a hint of a love triangle without bashing it over the audience’s head. But as the film progresses, they become zombies in a ghost story, walking around in stilted, tiresome performances. Their worst offense is they become boring, except, from time to time, Douglas Smith. The film’s lead is either staring blankly off screen or reacting in extremes. What is likely intended to be disbelief in what he is seeing comes across as dumbfounded rubbish. Then, out of the blue, Smith gives a more spirited performance as he sings along with The Everly Borther’s “Bye Bye Love” – the scene is insane by contrast, a laugh out loud belch in an otherwise quite, sluggish film. It all comes down to a contrast of the film’s method to its message.

Midway through the film, Carrie-Anne Moss appears as a detective with a delirious “turn-to-the-camera” reveal. It’s as if the film wants to shout out loud in a visual voice-over “and welcome Carrie-Anne Moss as Detective Shaw” in all its soap opera glory. At the same time, she does give the film its sole decent performance. Her understated interrogation into Elliot’s behavior threatens to give the film some actual weight and consequence. The Bye Bye Man  needs far more Moss in the film. Late in the film, Faye Dunaway appears to provide more exposition. The best thing about her role is how she stares at Douglas Smith like his a flipping nut-case. Fan favorite Doug Jones stars as The Bye Bye Man, giving the character a lanky, haunting figure. Unfortunately, his is not given much interesting to do with the character. His biggest threat is… standing there… or pointing his finger at his victim’s foreheads.

The Bye Bye Man is an infuriating bastardization of horror. It misunderstands much of what makes horror films work in the first place. It fails to work on a supernatural level, its limps along as a slasher film. The story cannot figure out how to handle its exposition. It tells its audience too little about the menace behind the title character while overstating the formula over and over again. The repetition is tedious. The events depicted in the film expose its cut from R to PG-13 in a crushing way, leaving horror fans feeling cheated and deceived. The acting is so off-tone that is invites unwanted laughter. The CGI effects are insulting, especially when it comes to the Bye Bye Man’s hell hound who is introduced looking rather intimidating in the shadows of the attic doorways but walks into the scene as if he walked off the set of a poorly made Asylum film. Worse, the beast does nothing – Nothing! – he walks into the scene, sniffs a bit, and walks out the door. Just like the rest of The Bye Bye Man, the scene is deflated and aggravating. The film is a discouraging start to 2017.

The Bye Bye Man 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

Doc Rotten
Editor-In-Chief / Founder / Podcast Producer at Horror News Radio
Doc Rotten is the founder of Gruesome Magazine. He is also a film critic for Gruesome Magazine and the podcast host & producer for Horror News Radio, Monster Movie Podcast, Decades of Horror: 1970s, The American Horror Story Fan Podcast and Hannibal Fan Podcast. He is also co-host of the Dracula podcast on TV TALK and is a contributing reviewer for HorrorNews.Net and Widescreen Warrior.

Doc a lifelong fan of horror films, sci-fi flicks and monster movies first discovering Universal Monsters and Planet of the Apes as a young child in the 1970's searching out every issue of Famous Monster of Filmland (and, later, Fangoria). Favorite films include Jaws, The Car, The Birds, The Tingler, Vampire Circus and The Exorcist. Still a huge fan of horror films from the 70s, Doc continues consuming horror films to this day for the site, for the podcasts and for the fun of it all.