By Tanmay Shukla
Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews
Every once in a while a movie comes across which is popularly understood contrary to the sense of its creator’s original vision like the case with the 1988 anime Grave of the Fireflies wherein the director Isao Takahata chose to vocally express his objective (owing to the underlying ambiguities) in the fear of endorsing a message which may have missed the point. Here, The Bye Bye Man can be seen from two perspectives in mind--if you are looking for a serious scare then you will leave the theatre disappointed; the other option would be to watch it as an unapologetic parody sumptuously conjuring up all the ingredients of the horror recipe. But both the interpretations would really be far-fetched, radically deviating from the original vision, for here is a movie that takes itself too seriously. Nevertheless, the latter view opens the door for some fun while the former would leave a bitter aftertaste.
The film starts with a well shot long take. The tone is warm and it doesn’t look ominous. But the inactivity is brief and all of a sudden a mass murder occurs in the neighborhood. A man has gone haywire. He incessantly repeats “don’t think it, don’t say it” and asks the victim about “the name” as he shoots them dead. This is the backstory which takes place in Wisconsin, 1969.
In present, three college students, Elliot and Sash, a couple, and their best friend John have rented a house near the campus. Even before they settle down, they start witnessing strange activities. Elliot discovers a scribble which reads “Don’t think it, don’t say it” kept inside the drawer of a nightstand. Under the paper, “The Bye Bye Man” is chiseled on the drawer surface. In an unfortunate incident, a psychic friend, Kim, mentions the “name”.
The legend of Bye Bye Man talks about an orphan from Louisiana who has a dog-like queasy beast, Gloomsinger and they travel the train in search of a prey. He zeroes in on his victims when his name is uttered or thought about. He infiltrates the mind of his victims with frightening thoughts overtaking their sensibilities through psychokinesis.
This idea in itself basically revolves around a villain who employs the method of psychological torture and toys with the mind of his prey rather than randomly showing up and throwing furniture at them or abducting their loved ones. The Babadook made excellent use of the former trick which is why it is widely labelled ‘fresh’ in its genre. While The Conjuring was efficient and made well use of the traditional approach without compromising with the characters, recent films such as It Follows and The Witch have skilfully executed the story without burdening themselves with the obligations of genre conventions.
The intrusion of Bye Bye Man torments the friendship of the teenagers by exposing them to filthy visions. The tricks which he wields are far from what he’s truly capable of, for the character has the potential to become a reprehensible villain but the ordinary script flushes away all the mystery and fear surrounding him owing to poor designing of his on-screen presence—all the harm he inflicts is on the surface level far from the realms of madness and paranoia which deprives the film of the trademark horror elements—absence of dread or chills.
The urgency with which the story rushes to reveal Bye Bye Man doesn’t allow the right mood to build up. This is where films like We Are Still Here, The House of the Devil succeeded by investing time on the ‘lurking danger’ for it is the fear of the unknown which feeds the curiosity of the audience. The tone of the film is a misfit with dialogues on the verge of being farcical, making the things even worse as the cliché horror tropes fail to elicit goosebumps, let alone scare anyone.
An interesting idea by Robert Damon Schneck is terribly adapted by writer Garrett Riley. He could have drawn some clues from the recent successful films in the genre but seeing The Bye Bye Man feels like we are going backwards. Stacy Title, the director, should have perhaps gone for a comedy horror film rather than a typical horror movie. Apart from the tone and mood which heavily don’t help in setting up the ‘horror feel’, the way a veteran like Faye Dunaway and experienced Carrie-Anne Moss play their parts show a lack of authority and a fresh vision from the director who recurrently resorts to the banal cheap tricks where there is enormous scope to be ambitious and creative.
The only actor worth mentioning is Douglas Smith. Unfortunately for him the character is full of ridiculous inconsistencies which impedes the performance. Had the character been written in better sync with the story, he would have been far more effective.
The Bye Bye Man works as a parody. There are some instances which provoke genuine laughter. Maybe it will set a trend for serious, sincere parodies to come. What it will never be is a benchmark for horror movies.
Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!
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