bye bye: Hawk Ripjaw (Five Beers) –
“Don’t think it, don’t say it.”
It’s a mantra uttered by someone who has been plagued by an evil force, that follows behind them wherever they go, and causes them to hallucinate horrible things, and later commit terrible acts. His name is The Bye Bye Man. If you think he name, he becomes more powerful. If you speak his name, whoever hears it is now vulnerable to his power. The movie opens with a crazed journalist in the late 60s (Leigh Whannell), who turns a shotgun on his neighbors and anyone who has spoken the name of The Bye Bye Man.
Flash forward to the present day, where Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas, in one of the most distracting fake American accents in months), and their best friend Jake (Lucien Laviscount) have moved off-campus into a new house. Jake and Sasha are affectionate, but are strictly friends and the Elliot-Sasha relationship is respected. Elliot finds a nightstand in the basement, with the words “Don’t think it, don’t say it” scrawled on the paper lining along with what looks like blood. Instead of saying “fuck this,” Elliot peels back the paper and finds “The Bye Bye Man” carved into the drawer. After sharing this name with his friends and with housewarming guest Kim (Jenna Kanell), who is “sensitive” to psychic entities and is immediately freaked out, Elliot starts to believe that Sasha is cheating on him with Jake, Sasha catches a cold, and everyone else is a supporting character. Elliot must stop The Bye Bye Man from spreading to anyone else.
The opening of The Bye Bye Man is great–the setting feels right, the mostly-fluid single take of the killing spree is stylish, and Leigh Whannell’s performance of an unhinged family man is an effective and creepy introduction to a supernatural force that compels normal people to commit horrible acts. In the present time, the production design and some shots evoke vague feelings of foreboding. Doug Jones gets very, very little to do as The Bye Bye Man, but he remains an imposing character actor.
The Bye Bye Man suffers primarily from its bizarre grab bag of spooky ideas and visuals that mostly fail to justify themselves. There are individual shots here that could be creepy on their own, but have no place in this movie. Take, for example, the movie’s odd fixation on sprinkling a shot of a train moving slowly down a darkened track. The idea that this train brings doom, and the dread that should come from that, is a fine idea, but the movie never delivers any sort of payoff on it–there’s literally just a fucking train that shows up between scenes sometimes. The movie seems to want to imply that the train signals the coming of the Bye Bye Man, but the connection is tenuous at best.
The Bye Bye Man himself looks like Lord Voldemort after a botched facial reconstruction job. His arrival is heralded by the sounds of a train and falling coins, and he is accompanied by a large demonic dog that looks like a pile of animated ground beef. None of these things come together in any meaningful way. We don’t know why The Bye Bye Man looks like that, or why he has that dog, or what the coins mean, or what the train means, or what the hell he even wants to do. He has no endgame, no origin, and no mythology, and as a result has no stake in why he should be feared.
Part of what makes an iconic horror movie character work is a commitment to the monster’s mythology that can work with the universe of the movie and be alarming enough to be frightening in a real-world context.
The Bye Bye Man doesn’t do this. The eponymous character is described as a presence that invades your mind when you think his name, and is passed onto everyone else like a virus when the name is spoken. His origin, reason for existing, and motives are not touched upon. Director Stacy Title and screenwriter Jonathan Penner have insisted on internet QA sessions that they intended to remain true to Robert Damon Schneck’s short story, but while a short story offers the reader opportunities to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations, a film that has the same holes just feels tattered. The trailers for the movie insisted that the Bye Bye Man is the reason anyone in history went crazy and killed people. In the movie itself, killings occur because someone wants to wipe out everyone that knows the name and effectively erase the monster from existence. The spectre himself causes his victims to hallucinate… and make more people know about him? To what end? It’s never clearly defined. What’s more, The Bye Bye Man does little more than lurk and leer. At every appearance, he merely steps forward and points at someone. Not even the Resident Evil dog does anything besides eat dead bodies. The movie insists that we should be afraid of The Bye Bye Man, but it fails to establish what makes a compelling horror movie: why should we be afraid of him?
When the story really gets down to its core, it involves Elliot’s jealousy as he starts to believe that John and Sasha are betraying him, and it starts to tear the three apart. It’s got the makings of a good psychological thriller that could effectively convey how jealousy can worm its way into your psyche and destroy a relationship, with a spectre lurking at the edge of a bedroom being a sort of catalyst for the rift. The second act appears to be going for that, but the movie continues to insist on using jump scares and bloody (PG-13) images to be a standard horror film. The movie even actively tries to set up some of its own jump scares, such as when Elliot peers through a window to watch what he believes to be John and Sasha going off for a tryst, only for The Bye Bye Man to suddenly appear in the window as it cracks. The scare has no reason to exist, as do so many others.
The Bye Bye Man is a movie about an evil boogeyman who makes people hallucinate and eventually murder other people. It’s about a boyfriend, girlfriend, and best friend that are torn apart by jealousy. It’s also about a flower shop owner named Mr. Daizy. I’m not messing with you–in a movie that attempts to go to lengths to establish The Bye Bye Man as a formidable character, introducing a secondary character named after a flower who owns a flower shop is a jarring “wait, what?” moment that completely destroys the already fractured pacing and tone. There are other moments as well, such as a young girl complaining she has to use the restroom during a climactic, emotional scene, and a bizarre bit during one of those train sequences where we suddenly see the three protagonists standing on the tracks, completely naked, with their backs to us. The latter drew uproarious laughs from the entire theater. There’s even the requisite “search engine sequence” where the Elliot learns of the monster’s origins. The search engine actively avoids product placement. It’s called Search.
I went into The Bye Bye Man expecting to hate it. With that title (come on, Stacy and Jonathan–even if that is the title of the monster, don’t make that your fucking title), the movie is essentially asking for it. As it turns out, I didn’t hate it, but it was definitely terrible. I had some genuine reactions to some of the creepy production design and cinematography, as well as a couple of the scares, but at the end of the day, these function at the barest minimum as a sizzle reel for what Title can concoct. They’re engulfed in a generic story, haunted by a lackluster and poorly-defined villain. The name The Bye Bye Man indeed has power–the more you think of it, the less sense it makes, and the more of your time is wasted on this stupid, missed opportunity.
The Bye Bye Man (2017) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: for every shot of the train.
Take a Drink: every time someone starts chanting “Don’t say it, don’t think it.”
Chug Your Beer: when a wild Carrie-Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway appear.
Take a Drink: every time someone tries to avoid saying “The Bye Bye Man”
Do a Shot: every time someone says “The Bye Bye Man”
Take a Drink: for every jump scare.