The Bye Bye Man, 2017. Directed by Stacy Title. Written by Jonathan Penner. Starring Doug Jones, Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Faye Dunnaway, Carrie Anne Moss.
I really like the idea of evil as a viral idea (this was also the central idea behind Pontypool) where once the virus is unleashed, in this case the name The Bye Bye Man and the instructions “Don’t think it, don’t say it” you are doomed to spread the virus and die. This excellent central idea is muddled up in this movie though that tries to layer on repeated creepy trigger warnings (trigger warnings are a sign that something is coming, in the classroom sense it is a subject or description that might have an effect on a participant that triggers a PTSD response when that participant hasn’t been able to prepare themselves for the information; in a horror film, like a mystery or thriller, these trigger warnings are clues that can add up to solve the greater puzzle, as well as an indication that something bad is coming, i.e. Chekov’s gun) that don’t really tie together into a strong mythology. The meaning doesn’t necessarily have to be communicated to the audience in a spoon fed way, but internally there should be clues that insure everything connects. Remember, part of good horror is laying out objects/ symbols that carry both plot and metaphorical weight. This movie tries to do that with trains and coins dropping, but doesn’t really find a way to make them link together into a satisfying trigger.
This film is filled with excellent actors, but without a story/ dialogue that sufficiently makes the characters closer to three dimensional and give the plot enough suspenseful weight, you end up with a movie where stuff keeps happening. This movie really just needed a little more connective tissue and maybe a timeline for the virus (the ticking clock of seven days worked very well with the Rings/Ringu series). Also, beefing up the presence of Carrie Anne Moss’s wasted detective would have really helped the movie. We get sold the idea that these characters realize that they can’t say Bye Bye Man without putting anyone else in jeopardy, but we really only see them struggle with this in one scene. Having Moss occur more in the story, or try to help without hearing the one thing that could doom her with the rest of the characters, would have helped elevate the stakes in a very interesting way. That being said, the movie’s conclusion plays with that struggle and a few moments of high suspense when the threat of further contagion is dangled.
This film was adapted from a short story in the book The President’s Vampire by Robert Damon Schneck (The Bridge to Body Island), that is drawn from a supposed urban legend. It has a promising presence, and the unusual and silly name of this boogeyman adds credibility to why people might not think twice about not saying the funny name from the urban legend, but past a few interesting choices it is a pretty mediocre horror movie. Nice to see something set in and near Madison, Wisconsin though.
More later …