Arguably possessing the stupidest name to ever grace a poster, most discerning individuals should know exactly what they’re getting themselves into by gauging the quality of THE BYE BYE MAN’s trailers. Nobody’s going to claim that this is a good horror film, but it’s no THE FOREST or DEVIL’S DUE, and arguably even manages to beat out the bottom of the Blumhouse barrel, at least in entertainment value.
If you weren’t able to tell, THE BYE BYE MAN centers around a malicious entity whose name you are neither supposed to think or vocalize. If you do find yourself in a position of thinking or vocalizing his name, he and his trusty Hellhound sidekick appear and make you kill everyone you love. Well, sometimes. He also just kind of hangs around and jumps out at you with a big ol’ booga-booga. Or he makes you sick. Or he makes it hard for you to get boners. Or he just drops what appear to be unremarkable and ostensibly harmless coins everywhere. The lore isn’t exactly clearly delineated. Nevertheless, we pick up with Elliot (Douglas Smith), John (Lucien Laviscount), and Sasha (Cressida Bonas) as they move into one of The Bye Bye Man’s old haunts and soon come across his name scribbled in a cupboard. From there on the shit hits the fan.
Well, at least I was rooting for it to. There are so many threads of potentially different conflicts here involving The Bye Bye Man that it’s hard to ever really identify with anything presented to us, ironically or otherwise. Why doesn’t The Bye Bye Man just kill you himself, if it seems like you always end up dead anyway? What’s the point of making you kill your loved ones if you do it immediately and before any real existential sense of betrayal can set in? What the Hell is going on with the running train that we keep cutting to? What does The Bye Bye Man want? At one point he’s described as a reaper, is he collecting souls? Why does he keep dropping these goddamned coins everywhere?
Alright, yes, virtually all horror films require some suspension of disbelief, and they all get less fun the more you think about the logic of their worlds of story. So is THE BYE BYE MAN scary, at least? No. Not even a little bit. Unless you have just become attuned to the theoretical concept of a horror film, you won’t even blink at the meager offers on display here, including as eye-rolling of an “appear over your shoulder” reveal as conceivable. There’s a coat that Elliot owns (that is precisely identical to the one The Bye Bye Man wears, though nobody thinks to point that out) that just hangs in the corner of his room for the entire movie, there’s not nearly as much black metal makeup as the trailer promises, and we don’t even get any fun eye-rolls, seizures, or other tried-and-true horror reactions typical to the presence of a malicious entity. The only remotely interesting visual present is when Elliot’s niece, Alice (Erica Tremblay), is poking around Elliot’s house and discovers two tiny, tiny doors. When sticking her head into one, The Bye Bye Man’s Hellhound pokes his head out the other. Don’t worry, this is never addressed, despite possibly implying a portal into another reality or dimension.
In addition, the acting is so resolutely putrid that there’s almost too much low-hanging fruit to be worth picking. To Douglas Smith’s credit, he tries his best given the brutal abjections of the dialogue and character writing, but there are only a handful of scenes that he manages to elevate to the level of mildly incompetent, instead of grossly so. During a brief midpoint subplot involving Elliot getting taken in for questioning, Carrie-Anne Moss’s Detective Shaw is palatable enough, but everyone else is out to lunch. Cressida Bonas floats lazily by on what has to be the most potent cocktail of downers imbibed in modern memory, the first line out of Lucien Laviscount’s mouth had the entire theater in stitches, and Jenna Kanell’s turn as the “psychic” Kim will remind you of every stoned 20-something that has tried to bring out a ouija board at a college party. However, the real shame lays with Doug Jones, who clearly was attempting to have some fun with his role as The Bye Bye Man, but was bafflingly edited to have no dialogue. Oh, there’s a reveal for him, but it involves him slowly descending a staircase and removing his hood with something bordering on sensual relish, accompanied by a guitar solo. Needless to say, it lacked a sense of gravitas.
Now, all that being said, there is still a small kernel of something here, buried deep, deep down. It’s hard to find the signal amidst all the noise, but I have to admit that the film is earnest and seems to believe in itself, despite all of the nigh insurmountable evidence to feel otherwise. It so confidently delivers itself that it dances around being a functional cinematic experience. I choose to believe that there’s a cut of this that fully fleshes everything out, and perhaps even manages to make Doug Jones feel like an actual character. But the fact that we’re instead left with such a beguiling mish-mash at the center of unresolved traits, lore, and abilities is almost artful. If this were just slightly retooled, it could, without hyperbole, be the quintessential parody of horror.
THE BYE BYE MAN is about as tonally confused and thematically jumbled as a film can be, but it’s somehow more…virile…than I could have expected. Where something like ANNABELLE redefines laziness, merely existing for a quick cash grab and nothing more, THE BYE BYE MAN isn’t half-baked as much as it is purely, genuinely wrong and misguided. This doesn’t feel like a studio churning out safe and predictable PG-13 date night fare. This doesn’t subscribe to any formula or schematic of any sort. This is unironically opaque, obtuse, and frustrating. There’s nothing quite else like this film that I can think of off the top of my head, and if you’re among the ranks of the trash collectors of cinema, this is a curiosity worth looking into.
If you’re looking for legitimate quality, stay far, far away; if you’re looking for something to laugh at with your friends, look no further.