Friday, 1 December 2017

Movie Review: The Bye Bye Man (2017)



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For a good deal of 2017, I kept hearing about today’s film from colleagues over in the U.S. Specifically, how most of them couldn’t get past the extremely memetic title. While I can’t exactly disagree with their assertions, since it is very much a silly as all hell name for any movie, let alone a horror movie, this year has already proven itself to be one made out of shattering expectations. How bad could this possibly be? This is The Bye Bye Man.






The plot: College students Elliot (Douglas Smith), Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and John (Lucien Laviscount) move into a house off-campus. However, they soon discover strange thing happening to them and the house: Mysterious illnesses, coins showing up everywhere, and a nightstand containing just the words “Don’t think it, don’t say it”. Before too long, it becomes clear that something is seriously wrong going on around them, and unless they can remove a certain name from their minds, they may not live to tell it.

The film starts out with Leigh Whannell. I mention this because, for about two-thirds of the film, he is easily the best actor on display here. Our three leads are insanely wooden in their delivery and their individual existences in the story are rather questionable. Smith is here during some down-time between auditions as Dane DeHaan’s stunt double, judging by how out-of-it he looks, Bonas combines passive and stilted to create a complete non-entity, and Laviscount is the embodiment of every horror genre cliché surrounding black characters. Jenna Kanell as the resident seer/goth chick, and she plays that one note as well as can be expected, Carrie-Anne Moss does well and even manages to get Booth to actually do some emoting at one point, and Faye Dunaway appears to give us a massive exposition dump.

Have to admit, having heard horror stories (heh) about this film all year, I was not expecting to be this in-love with its main concept. Taking notions of fear and memory and spinning them into a look at what truly makes psychological horror ‘psychological’. The main gimmick of the killer appearing at the sound and even thought of its own name is chilling, and credit to writer Jonathon Penner who manages to create an aura of its presence throughout the story. Certain theologies, in particular the ancient Egyptians, saw the name of a person as an intrinsic part of the person’s soul and identity. So long as the name lived on, even if the body dies, that person continues to live. Combining that with the power that names can have in relation to death and carnage, like how ‘Charles Manson’ went from a rather innocuous name to a moniker of evil when connected to his later actions. Even considering how kiddified the name “The Bye Bye Man” is, with the right actions and mystique attached to it, it could still strike fear through reputation.

Of course, all of that is diminished nearly to nothingness due to a variety of different factors. For a start, there’s the aforementioned terrible acting which makes whatever drama or tension they’re trying to impart hard to swallow. But that lack of engagement ends up carrying over the titular character himself, played by veteran creature actor Doug Jones. For all the pre-amble about how terrifying he is and how dangerous even his name is to the human mind, the effects work leaves him looking nowhere near as creepy as he should, doubly so for his hideously-CGI hellhound. The setup is there but the lack of character mythos outside of the Bye Bye Man’s immediate effect ends up hindering it in the long run. If the original story could flesh him out in the space of a single chapter, surely this film could do the same in 96 minutes. Then again, even if they did flesh him out properly, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that the rest of the film isn’t all that scary to begin with. It’s not godawful or anything, as it definitely sets an atmosphere for what could be a horrifying monster, but it is rather basic in terms of psycho-horror. It only just gives the impression that the filmmakers at least looked up the term “psychological horror” in the dictionary before they started filming.

But all of that isn’t even the worst part. Even though I admit to being intrigued about the main concept, concerning the power of names and ideas and how they take root in people’s minds, it started to feel a bit familiar upon further reflection. Very familiar, to the point of realizing that I had already seen at least one other film with this same concept, only done better. As inconsistent as Freddy Vs. Jason turned out, it is still a good example of the whole “erase his name and we erase him” notion with how the townspeople of Springwood tried to bury that Freddy even existed. With this realization comes yet another that is far more unfortunate: As much as I wanted to give this film some credit, the one real thing it has going for it has already been done justice by other works. So, essentially, this film really doesn’t have anything going for it after all. All of a sudden, its weak reception makes a lot more sense.

All in all, this is rather lame stuff. Quite compelling in concept but next to useless in execution, I’m seriously surprised that this film got to the point where it became the laughing stock of the Internet for a while. Frankly, brilliant concept or not, this is way too dull to register anything more than apathy with a light zest of disappointment; hardly the makings of a true piece of horror schlock. It’s better than CHiPs, as whatever derivative entertainment this creates is far easier to recommend to someone else than the buried-under-sexist-garbage positives of that film. Then again, me recommending this would have to involve the other party never having heard of any of the films that this feels extremely similar to. However, purely as a means of analysis, it falls short of King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword, which at least makes for interesting conversation concerning the director returning to form at the completely wrong moment. For a film all about how names and ideas bury themselves in our heads, I doubt that this will leave much of an impact on me in about a month’s time.

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