The threesome has arrived at the off-campus housing provided to them by one of an official at the college they attend, and the lodging itself houses a terrible secret: the Bye Bye Man, a phantom that seemingly resides in an end-table in the upstairs bedroom and whose name cannot be thought or spoken, lest he appear. That's the premise of The Bye Bye Man, a horror film of astounding stupidity and surprising ineptitude. This is a premise that might have held some interest or thoughtfulness, but both sensations have been rudely interrupted on their way to the viewer's memory banks. The ways found by Jonathan Penner's screenplay (based on a short story by Robert Damon Schneck) to manipulate its characters into being tools of the Bye Bye Man's mind games are unintentionally amusing when they aren't terribly misguided.
The threesome consists of Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas in an embarrassingly awful performance that feels consistently like a first-time dialogue recital), and his best friend John (Lucien Laviscount). Some attempts at interpersonal drama are introduced here when the machinations of the plot set in: Elliot is the jealous type, imagining a scenario in which his girlfriend and his best friend are having a fling on the side. Actually, come to think of it, with the exception of the minimal drama used to set up the Bye Bye Man and the rules that guide him, this is the only drama that drives Penner's narrative. Sasha and John are defined almost exclusively by their shared relationship with and to Elliot. It's a poor clothesline on which to hang any narrative, but it's especially poor here, where so much focus is placed on a narrative rung that keeps re-establishing itself.
Let's talk about the Bye Bye Man, though, because that is the name shared by both the film and its central ghoulish being. We get no explanation of his origin, but that's not really a problem: Perhaps the only real thing the film has going for it is the minimum of mystique surrounding the beast. The opening sequence, which is effective in its own right until the events come around again in the third act and the other shoe drops, establishes that the real threat is within oneself. Paranoia is the enemy here, but Penner and director Stacy Title are unfortunately focused on giving a face (specifically that of actor Doug Jones, behind a layer of makeup prosthetics) to a being that could just as easily have been left off the screen entirely. Suggestion is lost on the filmmakers, though, who go for blunt literalism as often as possible.
The results are sometimes unintentionally amusing, such as an extended sequence in which two of the characters are hallucinating different people at exactly the same time and neither of the actors involved is convincing enough to pull off the notion of anything but hysterics. A late scene featuring Faye Dunaway, admittedly solid in a one-scene role as the widow of one of the Bye Bye Man's victims, is marred by the use of rubbery-looking fire effects, and Carrie-Anne Moss looks lost in her appearance as a detective who questions Elliot in spite of his insistence that he won't answer questions. Title goes for the obvious horror standbys of jump-scare theatrics and a CG Hellhound as the Bye Bye Man's pet that would barely pass muster in 1997. The final sequences of The Bye Bye Man are truly desperate, stinging a sequel while at the same time attempting some form of twisted pathos that it never remotely earns. It's all a cacophony of nonsense.
Douglas Smith (Elliot), Lucien Laviscount (John), Cressida Bonas (Sasha), Michael Trucco (Virgil), Jenna Kanell (Kim), Erica Tremblay (Alice), Marisa Echevarria (Trina), Cleo King (Mrs. Watkins), Carrie-Anne Moss (Det. Shaw), Faye Dunaway (Widow Redmon), Leigh Whannell (Larry), Doug Jones (The Bye Bye Man).
Directed by Stacy Title and written by Jonathan Penner, based on the chapter "The Bridge to Body Island" in the novel "The President's Vampire" by Robert Damon Schneck.
Rated PG-13 (terror, horror violence, bloody images, sexual content, thematic elements, partial nudity, language, teen drinking).
Released on January 13, 2017.