So, three university students in Madison, Wisconsin, rent an absurdly large and ridiculously rambling off-campus house. Inside is a haunted night table — that’s right, I said “haunted night table” — that summons the most feeble boogeyman horror movies have ever seen. He’s called the Bye Bye Man, and he’s like Slender Man without the catchy memes. He drops coins on the floor, makes you hear the sound of a train in the distance, scratches up your walls, and — this is the eeriest bit of all — he makes you get a head cold in the dead of winter in Wisconsin. Spooky, right?
Later, it’s true, the Bye Bye Man might make you kill people… or maybe you kill people in order to prevent them spreading the idea of the Bye Bye Man? (It’s never clear what the heck the Bye Bye Man actually wants from those he possesses. Obviously screenwriter Jonathan Penner is an artist above such bourgeois notions as “motivation” and “story logic.”) Saying his name is bad, but even just knowing it is bad, too. “Don’t think it, don’t say it” is the mantra his victims mutter to themselves, or perhaps scrawl all over the walls and ceiling. Somehow the Bye Bye Man can help you defy gravity I guess.
Anyway, the idea that you should avoid thinking about the Bye Bye Man is an excellent one. Do not see this movie. I cannot imagine how it managed to claw its way into existence. The Bye Bye Man is one of the most inept films to have gotten a significant release I’ve ever seen, and that’s even considering the January-dumping-ground curve. Loosely based on the supposedly true “nonfiction” short story “The Bridge to Body Island” by writer-of-the-weird Robert Damon Schneck, this is cheaply made, poorly directed, badly acted, oddly edited, and ultimately insultingly stupid. The mythology behind the Bye Bye Man is all but nonexistent, even grading on the it’s-supernatural-so-it-doesn’t-have-to-make-sense curve. The characters we’re meant to be rooting for barely even measure up as flimsy cardboard, and they behave in ways that are inexplicable. Even grading on the people-do-dumb-things-in-horror-flicks curve.
Simple example: Why does Elliot (Douglas Smith [Miss Sloane, Terminator Genisys], a sort of ultra-low-budget Dane DeHaan) craft a love letter to his girlfriend, Sasha (the very wooden Cressida Bonas), that looks like a clichéd ransom note, all letters cut out from magazines, and why does she think it’s adorable? (This is before the Bye Bye Man arrives, so we cannot blame his influence.) It’s not like they share a particularly grim sense of humor or anything, which would at least have contributed to developing them as vaguely human-ish characters. And if Elliot is so secure in his relationship with Sasha that he’s okay with her being very affectionate with his best friend and their new housemate, John (Lucien Laviscount: Honeytrap, ), why is he so easily convinced by the Bye Bye Man’s mind tricks that she is being unfaithful? (It could be that the Bye Bye Man gets off on turning people against one another to the point where they kill one another. I wish we knew. But there’s me looking for a “story” again.)
Much more problematic example: Eventually, of course, what with all the bodies piling up, law enforcement has to get involved… and Detective Shaw (Carrie-Anne Moss [Pompeii, Disturbia]; poor, poor Moss) is the most credulous cop the big screen — and probably the small one too — has ever seen. When she should be screaming for a psych consult on the suspect who is offering her a ridiculous fairy-tale excuse for what looks like his complicity in, at a bare minimum, aggravated manslaughter, Shaw instead lets him walk out of custody. (If I recall correctly, this is the first time I barked with laughter out loud at the screen. It would not be the last.) There’s another character, too, who does a 180 pivot from shocked disbelief to complete acceptance of an outrageous and evidence-free explanation of the Bye Bye Man, and in a matter of mere moments. The plot, such as it is, entirely falls apart absent the utterly implausible behavior it is built upon — which also includes the absurd manner in which Elliot is able to learn about the local history of the Bye Bye Man — which perhaps should have been the first clue that this simply wasn’t going to work.
It’s like director Stacy Title wasn’t even working from a first draft of a script but just from some hastily scribbled notes. What are the coins about? What the heck is with the visions of an oncoming train that vex Elliot? It’s like a metaphor — the Bye Bye Man is unstoppable and heading right toward you — gone literal in a way that is wholly idiotic, one any filmmaker above the age of eight should be embarrassed to even attempt. I wish Mystery Science Theater 3000 was still around: Joel and the bots would have a ball with this one.