I am so very sorry, Carrie-Anne Moss (Detective Shaw). I don’t know what twisted Hollywood trail brought you to spend one or two shooting days on the set of The Bye Bye Man, but please avoid that way in the future. I am guessing that the phrase “from the producers of Oculus” impressed your agent enough to sign you up. Maybe it’s time to shop for a new agent?
The Bye Bye Man is the latest indie film attempt to reach that mythic pot of low-budget gold, the horror franchise. There is a countless stream of these types of films reaching back for three decades, and happily most of them now wind up on video-on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon. Inexplicably, this one made it to a fairly wide release—it was not ready for theatrical release and would not even fare well in student film festivals or regional competitions. Trump is elected president and this film gets wide release. Nothing in the world is fair or just. To quote Frank from Hellraiser, “Jesus wept.”
Much of this film reminds of days I’ve spent on set, actually. Grimacing at dialogue as I ducked behind a flag to hide my facial expressions. Bitching to my fellow crew about how many more free hours we were going to give a hopeless project in the hands of neophyte director. Happily, few of those films ever made it to completion, but The Bye Bye Man is sadly now there for everyone to see forever, complete with scene after scene of hopelessly wooden performances and poorly directed dialogue—lines of dialogue that shouldn’t have made it past a first draft. There is CGI that doesn’t pass video-game muster, let alone a 30-foot screen. Not to mention an entire scene with Faye Dunaway (Widow Redmon) as the aged widow of a 1960s-era deranged mass murder who somehow lives and looks like a Victorian Gothic matriarch. I love me some cinematic non sequiturs, but what the ever-loving fuck?
This might be a good place to mention the bloodless shotgun murder spree. You know that cliché in every movie made after 1986 where someone gets hit with a shotgun blast, is knocked into a wall, and slides to the floor, laving a bloody smear all the way down? Well, director Stacy Title features that in this film, but the real twist on the trope is that when this victim slides down, all we see is a dent in the clean white wall, as if someone hit it with a small hammer. So, somehow the shotgun blast didn’t break the victim’s skin (no frontal squib), but it did create enough force to dent the sheet rock. Generally, I would say that “leaving it up to the imagination” would dictate cutting away from the shot, but maybe I’m just a hater.
The real head scratcher behind the lack of gore or anything impressive in the physical-effects department is the fact that said department was headed up by Robert Kurtzman (From Dusk Till Dawn, Pulp Fiction, It Follows). One can assume that same subterfuge that got Carrie-Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway involved had its way with him too. The man’s legacy of shotgun blasts speaks for itself.
Filmmaking is collaborative, so there are always going to be some bright spots in even the dimmest of cinematic projections. Young Erica Tremblay (Alice) is a child actor who manages to be much better than either the material or anyone else around her. Douglas Smith (Eliot) seems like he could have given an improved performance but was hamstrung by blunt direction and a hopeless screenplay. James Kniest’s low-budget cinematography holds up the big screen for the most part; some bad choices in postproduction work against many of the shots, but that’s a minor sin compared to the fouls elsewhere in this production. The sound design and audio postproduction (led by Kelly Cabral) are the clear winners in this sordid race—very nice work all around, and often the only things worth paying attention to.
Horror fans and even general audiences will forgive the weaknesses of a low-budget film if it gives them what they want in a fright flick. Needless to say, The Bye Bye Man falls horrendously short of that mark, and all that is left is the smorgasbord of failings and missed opportunities on display for the barely 90-minute run time. The best hope for this film is a drunken late-night revival, like The Room has enjoyed, but it doesn’t even really deserve that. It should do the honorable thing and disappear into the digital detritus of cinema like all of its fallen brethren.
Like I said, I’m sorry.