Provoking more chuckles than screams, The Bye Bye Man aims to unveil a new horror villain for the 21st century that can take the place of Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers, who have long deserved a restful retirement. But while the picture has an intriguing concept, the execution falls flat, thanks to scenes intended to scare playing as ridiculous, some hammy acting, shoddy special effects and a villain whose origin is entirely too vague.
The film opens on an unsettling note. On a sunny day in 1969 in Madison, Wisconsin, a man strolls up to the lawn of a house, asks the woman who answers the door if she has spoken aloud a name to anyone else, retrieves a shotgun from his car and proceeds to slaughter several of his neighbors. The scene – although absurdly devoid of blood for the brutal carnage on display for the purpose of receiving a PG-13 rating – is the scariest in the picture because it takes place in such a blase manner.
Jumping to the present, a group of teens – a studious young man, his girlfriend and an athletic pal – move into the house where the opening sequence took place. Shortly after their arrival, they begin to find coins on the ground – one of many elements in the film that goes completely unexplained – and eventually discover a dresser where the words “don’t think it, don’t say it” are scrawled over and over again.
As it turns out, a malevolent spirit known as The Bye Bye Man – a creature for whom we get virtually no origin or history, thereby making him merely a dull, hooded figure with an inexplicably preposterous looking, digitally created demonic dog as a companion – resides within the walls of the house and after you speak his name, you can’t get it out of your head, thereby bringing him into the world, where he distorts his victim’s visions and leads them to undertake heinous acts of violence. The rule is that you can’t repeat his name to anyone else or you’ll infect them as well.
Conceptually, this film could have been a decent horror movie. Much like 2015’s terrific It Follows, this film – directed by Stacy Title – has a philosophical notion at its core – in this case, that people can will things into being by becoming obsessed by them. Therefore, by allowing something to completely take you over, you’ve enabled the thing that you fear.
But The Bye Bye Man has little on its mind other than cheap jump scares, unexpectedly slammed doors and things that go bump – or, in this case, scratch – in the night. Throw in a few poor line readings, some chintzy special effects (re: the dog) and characters who only exist to fill out horror movie archetypes and you’ve got a wasted effort. The movie’s ending sets up an inevitable sequel and, as I’ve mentioned the concept here could make for a decent genre outing but, perhaps, it’s better to follow’s the film’s own advice as to returning to this material – don’t say it, don’t think it.