If you know he exists, he will come for you next, as you speak or even think his name. He defies the laws of physics, drives his victims mad, and has been seen in old photographs, observing ominously. To make a long story short: Doug Jones reprises his role as Slender Man (Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story) albeit with a far sillier name and an actual face. I wish I could say that’s the only film The Bye Bye Man derives ideas from without any effort to subvert or freshen them up, but here we are.
The Bye Bye Man is precisely the sort of insufferably formulaic and forgettable movie you’d expect from the cinematic dumping ground that is January. True, for us Europeans this could be the month where we finally get some of the critically acclaimed films or hidden gems of the previous year, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get a taste of the rotten ones as well.
On top of its cookie-cutter script and horror film tactics (Do I even need to say the word “jump scare”?), the film offers porno-level performances and characters that explain to each other who they are in ways that are, well, whatever the antonym of the word “seamless” is. We mainly follow a trio of youngsters (Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount and Cressida Bonas) who stumble upon the origins of an evil entity known as The Bye Bye Man after one of them develops an inexplicable cough and weird scribblings are found. Again, totally not a Slender Man movie.
What we (and the protagonists) soon learn is that The Bye Bye Man has influenced the evil of mankind for several decades, as there are several documented cases where teenagers have committed mass murders and left notes behind reading “The Bye Bye Man made me do it”. Even though we finally have an explanation for all the shootings and hate crimes that have taken place in recent memory, provided I’ve understood the premise of this film correctly, I am also to understand that The Bye Bye Man has only existed since some time in the 1960’s. So I guess he wasn’t around during The Holocaust or the Dark Ages and cannot be blamed for all of the world’s horrors. Just a little bit.
Also in on the fun are Carrie-Anne Moss as a generic hard-ass cop (who is astoundingly quick to buy into the main characters’ “It wasn’t me, it was the tall ghost dude” routine) and Faye Dunaway as Cameo #2. At least these two are watchable, which is more than I can say for some of the lesser-known actors. I can recommend watching Jeremy Jahns’ review of this film (even as I’ve come to regard him as more of a “dude who loves movies” than an educated critic like Mike Stoklasa or Adam Johnston), in which he includes an anecdote about how he watched it at a special screening hosted by the cast and crew, and how the viewers would laugh whenever Cressida Bones said or did anything – whilst she was most likely in the theatre with them, mind you. Ouch.
In other areas, the film is similarly amateurish, to the point where I must question if it truly belongs on the big screen and not on the same hard drive as some of the embarrassing student films I made in 2013 before I became (relatively) more careful with what I upload to YouTube. I suppose it technically has better sound, visual effects and editing than that, but the cinematography and writing are pretty down there.
Still, the film could have worked in the hands of someone else, or perhaps even these same people if the budget wasn’t so low. I liked the shot where Doug Jones’ character appears as a silent silhouette in the main character’s bedroom (even if a mandatory pop scare kills its effect) and I’d love to see the repulsive hound that occasionally turns up, done with better CGI.
In the end, I can see why this is considered a poor start of the year, especially for American film-goers. Me, I’m just pumped to go see La La Land, A Monster Calls, and Moonlight within the coming months. Don’t waste any of your time on this one.
I leave you with the trailer, which works a lot better as an unintentional comedy than the movie itself, which has too many boring moments to qualify. I guess we can also have ourselves a chuckle over the reality that someone somewhere will inevitably find these goofy images and unwarranted freakouts super-duper scary. It doesn’t take a lot, they say.