Cinematic Releases: The Bye Bye Man (2016) - Reviewed

Every January through March, the movie theater scene is the same.  With all the delayed Oscar contender releases released around Christmastime and late bloomers that got limited releases in New York or Los Angeles, studios open the floodgates for all the junk sitting on their shelves they’re not sure what to do with.  There’s a reason this season is referred to as the ‘dumping ground’ for movies and among the first bodies to fall is The Bye Bye Man.  A director-for-hire project from Stacy Title of the critically acclaimed debut The Last Supper, this messy and disjointed formerly R rated turned PG-13 bit of studio meddled hackwork sat on the shelf for almost two years only to rear its ugly head now.

Released by the STX Entertainment, the same company behind the bland and forgettable The Space Between Us, The Bye Bye Man is easily the worst horror thriller to ensnare major talents unlucky enough to sign on board since Into the Grizzly Maze put Billy Bob Thornton and a cartoonish looking CGI grizzly bear in the same scene together.  The title itself is silly enough, but you haven’t seen the jumpy and often unintentionally funny car accident of a film The Bye Bye Man really is.  Despite the titular demon being played by famed character actor Doug Jones, the number of times the filmmakers turned the volume up full blast and giving the characters reasonably plausible backstories, The Bye Bye Man ultimately remains bereft of scares.  Even the theater packed to the gills with moviegoers eager to check out the latest free screening couldn’t take it seriously.  

The movie itself concerns four college kids who move into a house with a haunted past involving some sort of demon known as The Bye Bye Man who has a thing for possessing the tenants and sending them on serial killing sprees.  The catch is you can’t say or think his name, much like the tagline on a movie poster that has already immediately become the subject of internet meme parodies.  The rest is a tone deaf slog through half-hearted jump scares, a séance, sleuthing the origins of the local curse and characters warning each other not to say the title of the film out loud.  

Outside of the dependable electronic/ambient score by the Newton Brothers who are accustomed to doing this kind of Blumhouse fare, most of The Bye Bye Man has no business being in theaters.  Straight to video horror fans might be able to get through it, but it lacks big screen presence.  Despite moody visuals lensed by Annabelle cinematographer James Kniest, there's a DIY cheapness permeating the thing which doesn't bode well for the revered monster movie icon Doug Jones' onscreen appearances.

Poor Doug Jones, who was once the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth, is now stuck looking a bit like William Sadler’s Grim Reaper from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey on heroin with a flayed CG rendered terror dog from Ghostbusters at his side.  Poor Carrie Ann Moss and Faye Dunaway, two overqualified actresses who were once doing A-list Hollywood movies now trapped in The Bye Bye Man.  Poor Douglas Smith of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, a gifted and prolific television actor, struggles with abrupt character transitions that are intended to yank the rug from underneath the viewer but instead elicited chuckles from much of the audience in attendance.  

In the past year, the multiplexes saw and unfortunately will continue to see an onslaught of demonic possession horror movies.  Two of the best ones, The Wailing and Demon, came from Europe.  A good one came out in America with The Conjuring 2.  Sadly most of the rest fall into the latter category of run-of-the-mill exploitation cheapies with some virtues that ultimately amount to less than a sum of their parts.  While this doesn’t quite scrape the deep bottom of the barrel that something like, say, Nocturne or Incarnate, it leaps around so much with little connective tissue holding it together than by the time the overqualified cast members make their cameos to cash their paychecks, we just feel sorry for them.


- Andrew Kotwicki