Title: The Bye Bye Man
Director: Stacy Title
Starring: Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Doug Jones, Leigh Whannell and Carrie-Anne Moss
Keeping a seemingly terrifying supernatural antagonist largely in the shadows as the suspense builds around him is an often a captivating way to raise stress in a film’s story. That built-up tension often pays off when his motivations and appearance are fully revealed in the plot’s chilling climax scene. In her new horror movie, ‘The Bye Bye Man,’ genre veteran director Stacy Title commendably aimed to create an eerie villain who frightens his victims through his spiritual presence throughout the majority of the story. Unfortunately, the lack of information the protagonist uncovers about his adversary in the movie, which STX Entertainment is releasing in theaters tomorrow, takes away most of the emotional panic that would have made the story compelling.
‘The Bye Bye Man’ begins with a flashback to a suburban neighbor of Madison, Wisconsin in 1969, when a local journalist, Larry Redmon (Leigh Whannell), goes on a shocking shooting rampage. He targets several of his neighbors for repeating the name of a spirit he told one of them about, after he begins to regret telling them about it.
The story then jumps to the present day, when several college students of the community decide to lease a mansion on the outskirts of town. Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend, Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and their friend, John (Lucien Laviscount), soon discover that they can afford to rent the large home because it’s been left largely dilapidated by its owner. While the house is in dire need of a renovation, they’re able to fix it enough to make it habitable.
To celebrate their move and repair on their new home, the trio decides to have party. During the celebration, Elliot uncovers mysterious writing inside one of the dressers that he shares with Sasha in their bedroom. The dresser, which was left with other furniture in the home’s basement, features the handwritten phrase, Don’t think it, don’t say it, which is repeatedly scrawled on the bottom of the drawer. Elliot also finds the phrase The Bye Bye Man carved into the table. He mentions the strange references to Sasha and John, but none of them knows what the phrases mean.
After the housewarming party, Sasha’s friend Kim (Jenna Kanell), who claims she can sense spirits, helps the trio hold a seance in an attempt to cleanse the house. But she becomes upset when she soon detects a malevolent presence. Elliot suddenly realizes that she must be referring to The Bye Bye Man (Doug Jones).
Elliot tries to protect his friends, as well as his brother, Virgil (Michael Trucco), and his family, by doing is own research into The Bye Bye Man. He appears to be the only one who can see the title character lurking around the house, as he’s the only one who said the spirit’s name. When Sasha, John and Kim also begin developing their own troubling symptoms, Elliot becomes determined to find the origin and intentions of the supernatural entity. But the more he uncovers about The Bye Bye Man, the more trouble the group finds themselves in, not only from the deadly entity, but also from a suspicious local detective, Shaw (Carrie-Anne Moss).
Unlike the noteworthy stories in such newly minted classic supernatural horror films in recent years, such as ‘The Conjuring,’ ‘Paranormal Activity,’ ‘Sinister’ and ‘Insidious’ series, ‘The Bye Bye Man’ unfortunately failed to develop a truly empowering origins story for its menacing spirit. Title’s husband, Jonathan Penner, wrote the script for the latest genre movie, and based the plot on the chapter, ‘The Bridge to Body Island,’ in Robert Damon Schneck’s book, ‘The President’s Vampire.’ Even having the source material to rely on for inspiration, ‘The Bye Bye Man’ ends up offering little insight into how the title entity came into existence, and why saying and thinking his name is the way his victims are targeted.
That lack of history seems to have arisen in part from the filmmaking duo’s preference for jump scares, which are effective when they’re introduced in the beginning of the story. But those scares quickly becomes repetitive when the only thing Elliot appears to be afraid of throughout most of the film is when he sees the ominous Bye Bye Man lurking throughout the house. The absence of any true explanation of why the title entity likes to physically frighten his targets is mainly only addressed when Elliot tries to research The Bye Bye Man at his college’s library, where he only finds minimal details on Larry’s case.
Not only is there a lack of information provided about The Bye Bye Man’s origins and motivations into why he targets the living who say and think his name, not many details are provided about Elliot, Sasha and the rest of the characters. The main source of backstory that’s given to the protagonist, his friends and his family is through facts that Kim uncovers during the seance, as well as a few photographs of Elliot and John from when they were friends as children. While Penner and Title deserve credit for trying to explain why so little is known about The Bye Bye Man, and offer some insight into Elliot’s past during the seance, that overall lack of truly developed backstories ultimately takes away from the character’s development and relatability.
Even though Elliot, Sasha and John are meant to lead the fight against the menacing and antagonistic title character in ‘The Bye Bye Man,’ the lack of information about their pasts ultimately leads to Smith, Bonas and Laviscount’s emotional performances feeling flat and weak at times. The supporting actors in the film, particularly Moss and Whannell, ultimately give the most noteworthy and memorable performances in the supernatural horror film, as they both effortlessly infuse a relatable nature into their characters. Even though Detective Shaw instantly becomes suspicious of Elliot’s actions and doesn’t believe his recollection of events, and Larry committed unforgivable and heinous crimes, the actors effortlessly proved that their characters truly believe in what they’re doing.
In addition to the stellar performances given by Moss and Whannell, ‘The Bye Bye Man’ also redeems itself through its captivating production values, particularly its production design. The horror film’s production designer, Jennifer Spence, created stunning looks for the story’s locations, particularly the home that Elliot, Sasha and John move into together. The house, which initially appears to be ramshackled through its damaged furniture and dirty fixtures, was stunningly transformed into an antique mansion that’s fit for the most successful leaders in the workforce, not three college students.
‘The Bye Bye Man’ commendably tried to create an eerie villain who frightens his victims through his spiritual presence. Disappointingly, the lack of information the protagonist uncovers about his enemy in the movie takes away most of the emotional panic that would make the story gripping and memorable. The lack of information that’s presented about the villainous title entity and the well-meaning protagonist, who’s determined to protect his friends and family, took away the chance for the thriller to prove its originality. While the film is cleverly set up in a way that the The Bye Bye Man’s universe can be extended into a franchise through a sequel, a prequel that features Whannell’s stunning portrayal of the hysterical reporter would offer far more intriguing story opportunities.
Watch the official trailer for ‘The Bye Bye Man’ below.