As an unabashed fans of the horror genre, we went into the pre-release screening of the The Bye Bye Man blindly. Other than following an impressive viral marketing campaign involving a Craigslist scavenger hunt that we ran across on Dread Central, we knew next to nothing about the film, which helped to enhance the experience.
From first glance watching previews in line, The Bye Bye Man seemed to be a paint by numbers clone of recent Blumhouse or Ghost House features — taking the tropes of young pretty protagonists against an otherworldly force in a creepy setting with jump scares and the occasional gore hound nod abound. That’s not to say said tropes are bad things; in the hands of a great director and talented cast, they can be played to strengths.
It is here that director, Stacy Title, excels.
Paired with writer (and husband) Jonathan Penner on a story based on a “true-life” story by Robert Damon Schneck in the Americana anthology, The President’s Vampire, Title is able to twist the tropes that (horror) movie-goers would come to expect to create a mental trap (like the movie’s antagonist), to subvert the typical horror conventions one has come to expect from recent supernatural outings. Producer Trevor Macy has this to say during the recent Q&A, [We were drawn to the story because] “it comes with a warning… anyone is who is particular skittish or obsessive or worried about getting an idea out of your head, don’t read this.” Penner continues, [The Bye Bye Man] played on each of their weaknesses and would twist that relationship into something horrifying. These story tenets work not just within the conversation of characters themselves but in the meta-conversation of the notion of horror in the modern movie-scape.
Rather than relying on jump scares and gore (more on that later), Title deftly uses the meta conversation of placing and hiding ideas mentally across different levels to create a sense of horror and dread that is more based on what is real and what is not real. There is a scene in the climax that does this to great success that the reveal taken in context felt like something the viewer earned. A great deal of this lead up lies in Title’s ability to lead the cast into a slow descent into palpable madness that viewers could also experience, “I wanted to make sure the hallucinations weren’t heightened, lensed differently, filtered differently, so that when you’re watching you agree with the characters that what they’re seeing is real… so that maybe you’d make the same decisions… then it would be very scary, because you’d realize you are in the fix that they were in.”
While there were many bright spots to the film, it is not without weakness. There are some moments where a great deal of suspension of disbelief has to take place. An opening sequence is rendered lightly jarring and almost took me out of the movie because of a sequence that should have gore was heavily tamed down. Macy defends the decision with”13-16 year olds like to be scared too… the story is about these characters and the violence is less important.” He continues however, that ‘lots were cut out’ and that the “MPAA definitely had their hands on it.” Title and crew were able to maneuver around some of these sequences to push the story but assured the audience that their would be a complete version for gore-hounds with the home release. As such, there were a few CGI effects that did take away a bit from a few sequences, but that seems to be par for the course these days in the horror genre.
Appearances by Carrie-Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway do much to stabilize some of the missteps of the film as they help to ground and add a sense of gravitas the proceedings. Faye Dunaway especially was particularly amazing, as was Penner’s bit scene as their less than stellar landlord.
All in all it was definitely a more than descent and above average horror flick to help start the year off. January has had its share of interesting horror releases, with The Autopsy of Jane Doe currently holding a place in our horror infested hearts. The Bye Bye Man also helps to move the meta conversation in the ‘tired’ horror tropes along side The Girl With All The Gifts take on zombie horror and storytelling.
Our consensus was that The Bye Bye Man has the room to become a strong franchise. The seeds of its mythology and a sequel are there, and you can count us among those looking to see the movie get legs so Title and crew can expand The Bye Bye Man’s reach.
We definitely recommend at least a matinee check out of the film… or for a full on scare… do a seance during a late night showing… Conventional reviews would do much to sway you from the catching the flick, but as fans of the genre and what they’re pushing for here with an expanded story… take our word for it…
BONUS: Be on the lookout for their rather spooky Snapchat filter…
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Special thanks to the TCL Chinese Theatre, STX Entertainment, NukeTheFridge.com, and Collider Nightmares for hosting…