Horror film draws from other, better movies but still delivers some decent jolts
THE BYE BYE MAN (Stacy Title). 96 minutes. Opens Friday (January 13). See listing. Rating: NN
Based on its marketing, I have to admit I didn’t expect much from The Bye Bye Man, especially once we heard there would be no advance screenings for reviewers. But… well, it’s not terrible. It builds a decent mood in its first half, offers a couple of clever moments in its second and for the most part manages to make you forget that its monster has a dumb, dumb name.
Who is the Bye Bye Man? It’s never made clear, presumably because actor/screenwriter Jonathan Penner and director Stacy Title (who are husband and wife, and made the solid little indie The Last Supper together in the 90s) are saving that for the prequel. All that’s known is that he’s creepy-looking, he’s accompanied by a digitally animated hellhound, and his presence is heralded by a train whistle. Also, if you say or think his name, he drives you mad and kills you.
Title and Penner are ostensibly working from a short story by Robert Damon Schneck called The Bridge To Body Island, but really they’re stealing shamelessly from every horror movie about a legend or a curse that turns out to be real – The Babadook, Oculus, The Grudge, Candyman, The Ring, Night Of The Demon, you name it – without any of the psychological weight that made those movies work. The story here is very simple: unfortunate college students stumble across the name, get cursed and suffer for the rest of the movie.
And yeah, they’re hanging every shock on a boogeyman with a name so silly that it elicited giggles at my screening almost every time it was spoken aloud. But that regrettable decision aside, Title and Penner know what they’re doing, mixing some smart visual trickery in with the requisite jump scares.
There are also some aesthetic lifts from James Wan’s slow-burn horror Insidious, which are presumably legitimized by the casting of that franchise’s screenwriter, Leigh Whannell, as an early victim of the BBM. (See? Even that sounds less silly.)
At least Whannell fully commits. So does the rest of the cast, which includes Miss Sloane’s Douglas Smith as the nice kid whose discovery of the tainted name sets all the bloodletting in motion and Carrie-Anne Moss as a cop who catches the case and is not a total idiot.
I don’t want to oversell this. It’s not a good movie, exactly, and there are certainly better horror films around – like The Autopsy Of Jane Doe, for example. But if you want to waste an hour and a half jumping at shadows, The Bye Bye Man will certainly do the job.