You have to wonder what studio executives think when they come up with movie advertising tag lines. Some are genius, like “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream,” but others can be duds and unfortunately prophetic for how the film will be received. Case in point, The Bye Bye Man which urges not only the characters in the film, but the people looking at the ads to “Don’t say it, don’t think it.” In this case, it’s best to heed that warning.
So what is The Bye Bye Man about? That’s a good question, because there is very little explanation in the movie. The story opens in the late 1960s with a crazed man rampaging through his and his neighbors’ homes asking them if they told anyone else the name, and even when they swear they didn’t, he still shoots them and then ends the rampage by killing himself. But we have no idea what exactly this is about until …
Three college students pool their resources to rent a house off campus. Elliot (Douglas Smith) and his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and their friend John (Lucien Laviscount) seem to be the perfect housemates until odd things begin to happen. When Elliot finds an old piece of furniture with a paper in the drawer with the dire warning, he removes the paper and sees The Bye Bye Man carved into the wood. Of course he tells Sasha and John and their lives take a turn for the worse as more odd things begin to happen, including hallucinations making Elliot think Sasha is having an affair with John. Elliot goes to the campus archives to get some information and finds the story we saw at the start of the film and tracks down the widow (Faye Dunaway!) of the man who committed the murders. She’s little help, more people die, Carrie-Anne Moss shows up as a cop, and the film leaves us with little closure and a very obvious set-up for a sequel. Ugh.
The Bye Bye Man does have a few good jumps here and there, but the story itself is to incomprehensible that it just tests your patience. You can’t just create some new supernatural bad guy, give him an ugly CGI dog-thing, and give audiences a story without the least bit of exposition. You keep waiting for someone to explain the origin of The Bye Bye Man, and when Faye Dunaway arrives as the widow of the killer from the opening scene, you’d think she might have some answers. She doesn’t because her husband didn’t tell her the name. She knows about as much as we and the rest of the characters do. Which is nothing.
The rest of the movie is also full of people not explaining things, even to each other. Elliot keeps seeing Sasha and John in compromising positions but they rarely deny such things, instead just telling him he’s crazy, and even after they know they can’t trust anything they see, they still all fall under The Bye Bye Man’s spell much too easily (Elliot does manage to fight through it for one brief moment before falling back into the trap). And when he does finally get that there is only one way to stop The Bye Bye Man — by making sure no one ever sees, says or thinks the name — he takes the old desk he found with the carving and burns it. NOT! No, that would have been the sensible thing to do. Elliot just conveniently throws it into the woods adjacent to his house. No one will ever find it there, right? Dumb storytelling, but necessary of course when you’re arrogant enough to believe your film is good enough to warrant a sequel.
Probably the one surprising thing about the movie is its origin. There is a scene in the film featuring a florist by the idiotic name of Mr. Daizy. The face was familiar but I could not place the face with a name until the end credits. The actor is also the film’s co-executive producer and writer Jonathan Penner, best know to TV audiences as a contestant on three editions of Survivor. The guy has had a long career in the industry prior to appearing on Survivor but the show certainly gave him a boost and here he is with what is probably his most high profile project yet. He should probably stick to reality TV.
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