Movie Review: Bye Bye Man
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The Bye Bye Man is a routine horror thriller in which a Bloody Mary-like ghoul murders a
disposable cast of characters. Knowing this, how can you continue reading this review? You can in
the same spirit I watched the film, with an observational mindfulness concentrating on the small
details that make this experience slightly different from the 4,244 preceding versions of the same
The buildup is suitably creepy. In the 1950’s we watch a reporter murder his family and
friends, all because he told them about his article on the ravings of a homicidal teen, concerning a
hooded figure named “The Bye Bye Man.” The titular entity works as a word virus: if you hear his
name, then he will come for you, with his hoodie and skinless CGI dog. In the modern day (the
source material says it’s the 90’s) college friends Eliot, John, and Sasha move out of their dorms
and into an old creepy house. There they find a piece of furniture formerly owned by the reporter
and inside it written the eponymous words and the accompanying phrases all his victims feel
compelled to write and speak, “Don’t say it, don’t think it,” over and over.
The central trio is bland, but you don’t need real characters for horror to work. I recently
watched most of the Friday the 13th series, and there I enjoyed the accidental absurdist nature of
those films: plot and character are too much for them, and for long stretches they are simply
nonsensical buildups to stabbings. Here, in addition to the main characters the villain and his
mythos are bland. He is scary when first seen in shadow, glimpsed for half seconds or heard as a
distant creepy noise. He has a habit of dropping coins that is later explained matter-of-factly as just
something he does, with no root cause. But around the time a dog illustration on wallpaper turns to
smile at the camera, the movie takes him more and more into the light, and he becomes a goofy
demon without a backstory. He watched Candyman too many times and went crazy. There. I did
more work than the film.
He has none of the range of emotion his actor, Doug Jones, has shown as other creatures in
Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth or Buffy. There is a supposedly nonfiction tale (in which case I apologize
for damning you to murder and death by mentioning The Bye Bye Man) this is based on, by Robert
Damon Schneck, which possibly broaches these questions and more, but it hasn’t carried over.
We get a nice nod to compulsive thinking and how it works in that the victims, once they know of
the Bye Bye Man, can’t stop thinking about him, like the proverbial pink elephant. They feel
compelled to kill everyone they mentioned him to in order to stop his spread. (That compulsion may
be his only power.) Sasha mentions that “ideas are real” and talks about collective mental illness.
Later, a character figures out how to fight him simply by deciding not to get scared of the nightmare
images he sends. I liked this. If The Bye Bye Man is a memetic irrational fear, then he’s a metaphor
about delusional paranoid thinking, and how lonely attempts to combat it inside your own skull just
internalize it further. Mental illness in the U.S. is at the root of problems from homelessness to
mass shootings, and the isolation many people experience dealing with it alone is similar to how
our leads feel.
But I’ve touched on this about as much as the movie does. There are also moments of humor,
more of which would have helped, in the vein of director Stacy Title’s earlier satire The Last
Supper. Our dewey-eyed hero belts out a manic Bye Bye Love while racing home to stop the
demon. Elsewhere the Beerfest crime scene poncho gag is repeated, possibly on purpose. The
production could afford to hire Faye Dunaway for a day. But none of this really adds the spice the
movie needs. At one point one of the audience members reacted to a confusing switch from a Bye
Bye Man-induced hallucination back to reality by guffawing “What?” I laughed, and then he
laughed at my laugh, and we added the spice, in a small moment of communal reaction. However,
in fairness, I still imagined shadowy cloaked figures in my headlights as I drove home.
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Director: Stacy Title
Starring: Douglas Smith, Carrie-Anne Moss, Lucien Laviscount, Doug JOnes, Faye Dunaway