A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of seeing The Bye Bye Man, this year’s PG-13 horror movie that gets thrown into the early-January dump. First, I have to say that I needed to take these few days since seeing it to really think on the film and let it settle in my mind. Right off the bat I feel I should explain that the movie is not very good. I know that much to be true. It is by no means well made. The plot is filled with inconsistencies, the dialogue is awful, the shots are poorly composed, and the editing doesn’t help with any of this. Whatever they were trying to do, the people who made this movie did not execute it well. Now, though, we’ve reached my central problem: I don’t know what these people were trying to do.
While it is not a well-made movie, it’s still entirely entertaining. In all honesty, I cannot remember the last time a movie made me laugh as hard and as consistently as I did during The Bye Bye Man. It’s truly hilarious. And the thing is, I don’t think I’m being mean in saying that. This didn’t feel like the kind of laugh you get from a so-bad-it’s-good movie like The Room or something. This was genuine, uproarious laughter from an entire audience at moments that felt like they were being played for humor. That’s the puzzle. This teen-slasher horror film isn’t the least bit scary, it has dozens of technical errors and plot holes, it’s filled with wall-to-wall laughs, and yet it’s being marketed as an intense thriller? Clearly that doesn’t make sense, and thus my days of contemplation.
Is this truly a god-awful mess of a horror movie, or is The Bye Bye Man actually a hilarious dark-comedy that is littered with technical and script mistakes?
The film centers on Elliot, his girlfriend Sasha, and his best friend John. We learn that these are their relationships because they frequently and bluntly explain their backstories to each other, as one does with their friends. The trio has just moved into a big spooky house off campus, where they pass the time by having expository conversations and exploring the basement alone. We discover that Elliot’s bedside table has the film’s tagline (“don’t think it, don’t say it”) written over and over inside of its drawer, covering the name of the film’s antagonist “The Bye Bye Man.” Elliot thinks nothing of this at first, but Sasha is concerned and invites her psychic friend over to a house party to get a read on the creepy energy of their new place. It should also be noted that during this already plot heavy scene, Elliot’s brother Virgil arrives with his young daughter to give the characters advice and further explain their motivations. While the two brothers are talking, the little girl wanders around this college house party alone to look into spooky closets and find more jump scares. Again, this is either an attempt at being kind of surreal and funny, or a cry for help from the computer that wrote this screenplay. Either way, it’s all pretty hilarious and was met with tons of laughter.
Once the other guests have left, the three roommates and the Goth psychic stock character have a séance, where we are once again reminded of the film’s title character, and his approaching spookiness. Sasha is frightened, but Elliot and John remain skeptical and ignore her warnings. It’s then that the movie seemingly skips several scenes and now focuses on Elliot’s insistence that they are all being hunted down by the Bye Bye Man, who will get inside their heads and turn them against each other. While this information is accurate in how the plot winds up working, the movie didn’t allow the characters to come to this information at a natural pace. I genuinely sat in the theater wondering if somehow they jumped ahead in the movie by accident. Nope. This is just the movie. This insane movie.
It should be noted that we are never given a clear explanation as to what The Bye Bye Man is, or why he’s called that, or where his power comes from, or why he wants to kill them, or why his name can’t be spoken, or pretty much anything about how any of this works. We’re just told not to speak or think his name, and that he’s followed around by an incredibly silly CGI Hell-Hound, and then we’re expected to blindly accept all of this.
The film then falls into a series of nonsensical sketches about the spooky things that the Bye Bye Man makes you see and do, each more hilarious than the last. We get Sasha’s monotone conversation about her haunted table with the campy flower shop owner who sold them the house. We see a conversation between Eliot and a librarian (who without spoiling anything, gets the best scene in the movie towards the end) in which they discuss how you shouldn’t say the villain’s name in a conversation that name-drops him about a dozen times. Then we’re shown Elliot’s apparently drugged-up rendition of the Everly Brothers song “Bye Bye Love” which seems to be randomly inserted into the middle the movie with no setup or payoff. It just keeps building off of its own insanity, eventually peaking with a character’s sudden train-based splatter death.
My favorite exchange, however, happens right before the film’s climax, where one character seeks out another for advice in how to conquer the monster. There’s a solemn, heartfelt scene between the two that ends in the character calming stating that they can offer the best piece of advice for dealing with the situation:
“Just kill yourself. Kill everyone who knows about this, and then kill yourself.”
Which, when delivered like a Bob Saget speech at the end of a Full House episode (as was the case here), might be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in a movie.
Once again, I really can’t tell if it’s a joke or not, and it’s kind of maddening.
If I had to give some credit to the horror of The Bye Bye Man, it would have to be for its climactic battle against the titular antagonist. It actually has a couple moments in it that are kind of creepy and well executed, so I guess there’s that. However, the film can’t help but take that decent tonal moment out back and shoot it in the face, as it ends on one of the worst scenes I’ve ever seen a movie go out on. Without exaggeration, the film ends by openly acknowledging its own lack of logic and then having the precious five year old from earlier basically say a cutesy catch phase. The climax was the only moment I was almost scared by, and then they ended with more silliness. What are you, movie?
If the creative team behind The Bye Bye Man does come forward and explains that this movie was supposed to be an attempt at some kind of absurdist dark-comedy, then okay. I’ll honestly believe that, and feel a little more comfortable in recommending this movie to my friends. However, if it turns out that the humor is in fact unintentional, then this movie is an artifact of insanity. That would mean that an entire team of people came together and made these decisions without irony. They all put effort into this movie in an attempt to be scary, because this is what they all agreed fear looks like.
Unfortunately, I must ultimately recognize that I am probably giving the filmmakers too much credit. While it would be great to discover that this is some subversive alt-comedy stunt, the truth of the matter is that this is a teen-centered horror movie dropped in January. Very little effort is put into the majority of those kinds of films, and that’s probably the case here, too. If this is supposed to be a horror movie, it is a miserable, dizzying failure. If it is supposed to be a dark-comedy, it also didn’t really succeed, since I have to question if it was supposed to be a joke in the first place. So either way, we lose. Regardless, teens seeking jump-scares will see this and be perfectly satisfied with its mediocrity. The only silver lining I can see is that we will probably never be given an answer as to whether or not this is a joke, and so, for years to come, fans of truly absurd comedy will have this gem of a movie to watch late at night with their buddies.
If you want either your teenage jump-scare fix or a truly mind-boggling joke, I would actually enthusiastically recommend the madness that is The Bye Bye Man. As for everyone else, if you’re looking for a genuine horror film, avoid this movie like the plague that it is.
Rating: 2 out of 5