The rules are simple in Stacy Title’s long-delayed chiller: Don’t think it, don’t say it. If that sounds familiar, well, there’s a lot about The Bye Bye Man that does. The whole film feels like a mid-00s horror that’s been found in a vault at New Line or Dimension: a tagline-friendly hook, a hooded bogeyman, ropey CGI, a clunky script and an implausibly cavernous off-campus house. We’ve got a soft spot for that kind of thing, but only up to a point.
Elliot (Douglas Smith) is the unfortunate student who moves into the aforementioned big old creepy place with his saintly girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and best friend John (Lucien Laviscount) to get away from the hell of campus dorms, but when he discovers the name “The Bye Bye Man” scratched into an old nightstand, he opens the door for an unstoppable evil. Once you say his name, he’ll come for you…
The film kicks things off with a brutal (and self-aware) prologue before jumping into the present and straight into the usual sequence of noises in the night, slamming doors, ill-advised séances and rummaging through newspaper archives. Title works hard at creating a chilly atmosphere in the house, and the scorched earth policy of the curse and its potential vanquishing does lead to some enjoyably horrid moments. Just not enough of them.
The sequences that work (a great ‘Blink’ style library scene, Elliot’s interrogation by Carrie-Anne Moss’ tough cop, a manic ‘Bye Bye Love’ sing-along) are few and far between, and the film really doesn’t make the most of its villain’s ability to get in your head. It’s impossible not to think about the movies that The Bye Bye Man is aping (it can’t just be Whannell’s presence that made us think of James Wan) and is inferior to (The Babadook, It Follows), and the script does the cast no favours by giving them such dull characters.
Smith works incredibly hard with occasional success, Laviscount and Bonas are particularly hamstrung (He’s jealous! She’s sick!), and Moss feels decidedly overqualified for this sort of thing. Of course, Faye Dunaway livens up the proceedings a bit with her mere presence. The great Doug Jones is on monster duty and does well to bring some silent menace to the character, even while lumbered with an unconvincing CG hell hound.
To call it a disaster would be unfair as there is some spooky, cheesy fun to be had, but the plotting is somehow both slow and rushed, the writing is poor, and the performances aren’t great. We wouldn’t recommend it, but aficionados of January horrors will know that we’ve been through much worse than this.