Sunday, 4 June 2017

The Bye Bye Man (Quick Review) - Good Riddance Man

Don't think it, don't say it. So saith The Bye Bye Man's tagline. I imagine this was also a spot of cognitive dissonance those working on this film had to force upon themselves: lest the critical thoughts set in and they'd have to be sent to the same farm Hollywood sends its actresses to when they get fat. It's certainly a reasonable explanation as to how anyone could endure being a part of this dross.

The Bye Bye Man is the worst mainstream horror film in a good while. A feat that's on par with being last of the dregs to be picked for football during PE. It was released earlier this year, in January I think, but I didn't go to the cinema to see it. In part, because I rarely venture out to see horror movies anymore. If I wanted to be surrounded by screaming teens, I'd go to my local swimming baths and put an unwrapped Mars bar in the pool. But the main reason I didn't go was because The Bye Bye Man completely slipped under my radar. Hell, I don't even know if it had a theatrical release in the UK.

Perhaps it did but we all took its Don't think it, don't say it mantra to the logical conclusion of: Don't see it. Do you see how easy you make this, Hollywood?

Based on The Bridge to Body Island - a chapter in Robert Damon Schneck's 'non-fiction' book about urban legends, The President's Vampire - The Bye Bye Man is a prime example of killer concept, poor execution. I'd even go to say that the germ of the idea - an evil force that starts as a mere suggestion and grows in power as it spreads from mind to mind like a virus - is right up their with A Nightmare on Elm Street's ghost paedo who kills you in your dreams. Unfortunately, everything about The Bye Bye Man is either poorly handled or derivative of superior films.

I mean, just how many times has the 'people die horribly in a seemingly unrelated event' cold opening been done now? In a sunny American suburb, circa 1969, a crazed journalist begins gunning down his neighbours who he believes were told "the name". Whilst a bit hackneyed and lazy, the flashback sequence sets The Bye Bye Man off on the right foot: showing the villain's influence being dealt with like an infection which only a scorched-Earth approach can stop. It (wrongly) suggests The Bye Bye Man might be more thoughtful than the typical Hollywood affair, and even be something resembling a supernatural version of The Thing.

The main present day story itself is, however, the typical college friends ignore the rules of the Scream franchise and move into an off-campus house fair. The cliches begin minutes after protagonist Elliot (Douglas Smith), his childhood sweetheart Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and top shagger John (Lucien Laviscount) move into their creepy old home together. Elliot's tragic family backstory, potential secret romance between John and Sasha, unbreakable bonds, and so on and so forth. Sasha even decides the place is 'haunted' after spending one night there, so her weird goth mate, Kim (Jenna Kanell), holds a seance.

You goddamn Millennials and your seances. 

The seance was actually my favourite part of the film, as it features most of The Bye Bye Man's (unintentionally) funniest dialogue. Especially when Kim's claim to being psychic is that her mum thinks she's 'sensitive' to these things. That doesn't count: she's your mum, she has to say agreeable shit like that.

Events are kicked into motion when Elliot finds a nightstand into which someone has repeatedly etched the arch-phrase and 'The Bye Bye Man'. Which makes a refreshing change from the swastikas and 'for a good time call...' suggestions you'd usually find carved in abandoned furniture. This begins a movie's worth of  It Follows/ The Candyman/Babadook/Drag Me to Hell style psychological spookery as it transpires that, yes, this poorly defined supernatural force has so little going on that he'll ruthlessly target anyone who speaks or even thinks his name. Just like Donald Trump whenever he thinks he's being attacked by the media.

Unfortunately, The Bye Bye Man himself just isn't a particularly well thought-out villain. Set aside his unexplained and oddly specific powers - he make coins appear out of the ether, the sound of trains herald his arrival - and you still have to acknowledge the core concept is badly handled. An unknowable force that makes people paranoid and drives them insane through reality-warping visions, until they're doing terrible things to their loved ones and trying any means to stop it from happening: that's a good villain. But The Bye Bye Man regularly appears to the characters, looking like a school shooter hanging around in dark corners wearing a hoodie. He even has a demon dog which resembles something the Resident Evil movies rejected for being too shit.

In this respect, The Bye Bye Man has a lot in common with Sinister - a film released all the way back in 2012. That film also featured a supernatural force who manipulated people from the shadows and appeared to the protagonist in the form of visions. And, like The Bye Bye Man, Sinister got crap once the villain came out of the bad guy closet proclaiming: "I'm here, I'm evil: get used to it."

There's simply no way I could recommend The Bye Bye Man. It's a horror film devoid scares; except for, maybe, the three incredibly lame jumpscares used in the entire film. The characters pissed me off no end. After somehow establishing the visions they share may be linked to this The Bye Bye Man fellow they've just heard of, the characters spend the rest of the film mistrusting each other. This naturally comes to a conclusion that was likely aiming for Shallow Grave, but is more like a trio of children fighting over a packet of biscuits.

Nothing logical happens in this film. The Bye Bye Man's entire evil plan is to haunt people who learn his name and...force them to kill everyone who knows his name, and then themselves. Um, what? That's like trying to propagate by wanking into a tissue and flushing it. Elliot knows The Bye Bye Man can only exist if there remains written evidence of his name, and thus decides to destroy the nightstand. Makes sense right? Well, he 'destroys' the nightstand by throwing it into the woods that are five feet from his house. Fucking hell Elliot.

Perhaps the worst cinematic crime this film commits - out of a list long enough to make the Nuremberg Trials blush - is that it tries to drag down Carrie-Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway with it too. Maybe Faye Dunaway's golden days are behind her, but she deserves more than a single scene that's meant only to explain what the audience and Elliot had already figured out thirty minutes ago. And so does Carrie-Anne Moss. She's quite good in this film actually, as a hard-ass yet curious detective.

But it's a pointless performance really: she gets three scenes and the only reason she's there is as a hook for the (god forbid) sequel. Between this and Silent Hill: Revelation, it's as though after Trinity died in The Matrix Revolutions she was trapped in Crap Movie Hell for perpetuity.

Trinity didn't die for this...

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