Plenty of contemporary horror films are bad, but it’s rare you get to enjoy one like The Bye Bye Man; a film so bad, so ludicrous, so profoundly idiotic and nonsensical (and cheap!) that it morphs into its own charming teen-comedy. This is a slapdash, hallucinatory genre exercise that’ll only work out your sense of humour – and maybe your patience.
In rural Madison, three students at the University of Wisconsin – the tall, limp-haired nominal hero, Elliot (Douglas Smith), his oddly-voiced girlfriend, Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and his jock BFF, John (Lucien Laviscount) – arrange to room together off-campus in a big, spooky mansion in the middle of nowhere. Scarier even than Bonas’s performance – truly a horror – is the mansion’s huge, barn-sized rooms all full of leftover haunted furniture and the legacy of a menace known only as “The Bye Bye Man”. Don’t say his name! Don’t think his name! I’d tell you what happens if you do, but the film can’t really seem to make up its mind.
Like many such films that are tossed into multiplexes to sell tickets based only on the vague promise of scares, The Bye Bye Man is a confused hodgepodge of genre tropes from your classic bump-in-the-night haunted house shenanigans, to demonic possession, to good old shooty and stabby human-on-human violence, to the anxieties of having a collegiate love affair and a womanising best friend who’s liable to involve himself in it. Any rules that are established to govern the evil are promptly broken; any sense the film threatens to make is quickly revealed to be a ruse. The kitchen-sink approach is rarely appealing, and especially not in a film that’s trying to sell you a haunted house.
As fraught with logical inconsistencies and laughable drama as the teens’ investigation into their situation might be, it’s all more compelling than the big bad himself, who announces his presence with the clanking of coins in his pockets and the yelping of a skinless CGI pooch. The wrinkled, pale face beneath his hood and the skeletal, pointing fingers of his hands reveal an old evil with an emphasis on the “old”. He’s just someone’s granddad. And you never really see him do anything, as his whole shtick is tricking people into committing heinous acts on his behalf – a tired horror conceit that isn’t any more interesting here than it has been in the countless other bad horror films that have borrowed it over the years.
Stacy Title directs the film for momentary jolts, and with a schlocky, youthful vibe that just ends up being dumb and irritating. And there are no better words to describe The Bye Bye Man than those two. It’s a dopey film that fails on every level on which it attempts to operate, and I found myself wishing I could say bye-bye to the thing long before the credits finally rolled.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.