The Bye Bye Man movie review: don’t think it, don’t say it, don’t see it

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The Bye Bye Man red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

One of the most inept films I’ve ever seen. Cheaply made, poorly directed, badly acted, oddly edited, and ultimately insultingly stupid.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of most mainstream horror movies
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

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.tweet 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?

When he’s not haunting, the Bye Bye Man enjoys walks on the beach, yoga, and quiet afternoons in the library.
When he’s not haunting, the Bye Bye Man enjoys walks on the beach, yoga, and quiet afternoons in the library.tweet

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.tweet 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.

The idea that you should avoid thinking about the Bye Bye Man is an excellent one. Do not see this movie.
tweet

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.)

“Thumbs-up, thumbs-down: so unnecessarily divisive. I prefer to psychically point at your brain until you are compelled to see my movie.”
“Thumbs-up, thumbs-down: so unnecessarily divisive. I prefer to psychically point at your brain until you are compelled to see my movie.”tweet

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 aroundtweet: Joel and the bots would have a ball with this one.



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Kevin R
Mon, Jan 16, 2017 4:06pm

MSTK3 has risen from the ashes as “Riff Trax,” FYI.
THE BYE BYE MAN – POSSIBLE SPOILER TO FOLLOW:
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Wasn’t it clear, by the end, that the villain’s motivation was “infamy?” He needs victims but he can’t take them — he acts through others and manipulates them through illusion to kill but also continue his legacy. When it seemed as though Elliot would be the last, the villain pushed him to say his name to be heard by others and continue the curse that keeps on cursing. No, it wasn’t high art and the main characters were disposable, but it was still a fun popcorn matinee for fans of the genre.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Kevin R
Mon, Jan 16, 2017 10:34pm

Wasn’t it clear, by the end, that the villain’s motivation was “infamy?”

No, I don’t think that was clear at all.

He needs victims but he can’t take them

Why, and why not? Where are you getting this from?

Kevin R
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Jan 17, 2017 6:50am

MORE SPOILERS!
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It’s on the screen… all of it. You have to watch for the symbolism; all these movies do this. The coin drops call attention to the nightstand; the victim must be tempted by the loose paper peeling to “transgress” and read the cursed words of summoning. Only then can the villain appear — this is now a rule. Also notice the villain never kills; even his hellhound only feasts on the dead, threatening but never attacking. Those who know the villain’s name kill for him thinking they’re stopping him, but it’s secretly what he wants. When the final victim confronts the villain, the villain still doesn’t kill, choosing instead to mess with victim’s mind and intending for him to speak the cursed name — marking more victims. Infamy is The Bye Bye Man’s power; knowing his name dooms you, but he takes his time, allowing his marks to spread the word to at least one more victim he can continue to terrorize… after you’re dead.

RogerBW
RogerBW
Mon, Jan 16, 2017 4:56pm

MST3K has made new episodes. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mst3k/bringbackmst3k

The trailer for this made it look more coherent than it is… but not really like a horror film. What, all those bizarre and hateful behaviours are caused by demonic possession, rather than being something humans think of for themselves? That would be incredibly reassuring, not a reason to be scared!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Mon, Jan 16, 2017 10:35pm

Well, then, they have a movie for future ripping.

keithzg
keithzg
Mon, Jan 23, 2017 10:39am

Obviously screenwriter Jonathan Penner is an artist above such bourgeois notions as “motivation” and “story logic.”

Yours and other reviews have me thoroughly convinced (if the name and trailers hadn’t veen enough, which frankly they would have been) not tp bother seeing this movie, but it almost seems justified in its creation for the wonderful snark it has elicited!

P.S. I tend to read your reviews on my desktop, but in reading this one on my phone I actually had a hard time and had to turn it to landscape, lest the column be squished to a mere half-dozen or less words per line. Which gave the experience of reading your review a certain poetic framing, which was neat ;) but I can’t imagine is intended. As someone whose day job often involves HTML and CSS, I definitely understand if you’re quite aware of this and haven’t had the inclination to slog through the work of adapting or changing the styling of your website, just figured I’d mention it so you’d know if/when you do a site redesign sometime.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  keithzg
Wed, Jan 25, 2017 12:58pm

Sorry about the formatting problems. I am nowhere near an expert in programming, so while I know there are ways to apply different formatting for mobile devices, implementing that is way beyond me. I’ll probably get around to figuring it out one day, but I can’t promise when.

keithzg
keithzg
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Jan 25, 2017 8:09pm

Fair enough! (My non-expect suspicion is that it’s merely a matter of setting some min margins and max margins, instead of fixed margins, but CSS always tends to be trickier than one’d think…)

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  keithzg
Sat, Jan 28, 2017 12:36pm

I’m sure the problem is that on these reviews that spread across the whole page, the text is limited to 70 percent of that width (so that the pullquotes and photos hang off the right side). There’s probably a better way to do that so that it looks okay on mobile, but at the moment I don’t know what it is.