Every so often a movie comes along that has a profound effect on anyone who sees it. It becomes impossible to imagine what life was like before this film came along because it completely changes the worldview of anyone who watches it. After seeing it, your very worldview will be shaken to the core.
The Bye Bye Man is just such a film. Without hyperbole I tell you that it is impossible to watch this film and not come away wondering how it is humanly possible for a movie to fail on every possible level.
Oh, sure, you scoff. You think I must not have seen Birdemic: Shock and Terror or Tommy Wiseau's The Room because those films are the true failures. However, those films fail on the level of something like Ed Wood's oeuvre--they were the unique visions of people who had no clue what the hell they were doing but somehow made movies anyway.
No, The Bye Bye Man is something on a whole other level.
For one thing, those other two films were passion projects that were less "released" and more "escaped." The Bye Bye Man, on the other hand, was given a wide theatrical release by Universal! Sure, its release date got pushed around a bit until it was given the standard "we have no confidence in this film" release slot of early January--but Universal could have dumped this on video much easier and they still didn't.
The other fascinating thing about this film is its director, Stacy Title, is an actual filmmaker. Sure, she directed Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror (which I suspect is not fit to shine the shoes of Tales From The Hood), but in she also directed the flawed but genuinely enjoyable dark comedy The Last Supper in 1995. So she's far from some wildly inexperienced newcomer who somehow conned a major studio into backing her bizarre vision.
Stranger still, this is an adaptation of, by all accounts, a genuinely disturbing short story. Though a quick Google can tell you that very little of the source made it to the screen. So that's one mystery solved.
Now, despite everything I said, one could be forgiven for assuming we were dealing with another Birdemic based on the film's opening alone. In what we are assured is Madison, Wisconsin in 1969, we see Larry Redmon (Leigh Whannell, whose acting has apparently regressed to the level of stilted it was in Saw) kill several people with a shotgun because they shared the name he told them about. This sequence is utterly hilarious--the theatrical cut see his victims falling down, bloodless, like NPCs in an arcade game and it's so awkwardly filmed that even having him muttering, "Don't think it, don't say it," as he guns down his victims just makes the sequence goofier instead of unsettling.
|I totally forgot that the series finale of Murphy Brown had Miles go on a shooting spree.
Now, you'd be forgiven for thinking our heroes are a polyamorous "thruple" since they're moving into a rented house together and they all seem wildly flirty with each other. However, Elliot and Sasha are in a monogamous relationship and John's not-so-secret desire for Sasha and Elliot's simmering jealousy of John is his main defining character trait aside from "wears Joy Division, Dead Kennedys, and Violent Femmes t-shirts."
At any rate, the house they move into is a dump, which is believable enough, but also Elliot and John apparently signed the lease for the place without visiting it. Even for college students that sounds woefully naive. Luckily, the completely bare house actually is furnished if you consider "all the furniture was shoved into the basement" to count.
Said furniture includes a nightstand which will turn out to be what sets this film's spookiness in motion. At a housewarming party that evening, Elliot's brother Virgil (Michael Trucco) brings his young daughter Alice (Erica Tremblay), and she promptly gets bored of the adults and wanders up to Elliot and Sasha's bedroom. The bedroom is set up so that it has two small doors on either side of the room and Alice finds a big gold coin next to one--not noticing that, behind her, the head of a monstrous dog has emerged to watch her.
This is filmed in a wide shot and the monster dog's head just casually appears from the door and then retreats before she can notice it. I genuinely thought I was seeing things on my first viewing of this film because it is played so flatly and casually, with not even a hint of an attempt at suspense--and somehow it manages to be just as hilarious as the film's flailing attempts later on to try and pull the BIG LOUD NOISES scare tactics.
Of course, the film feels that is not sufficient to set the paranormal events in motion, so Sasha invited her psychic friend, Kim (Jenna Kannell) to help cleanse the house with sage and to give John somebody to hook up with. Well, Elliot proves to be the asshole skeptic and before you know it, they're having a seance.
|"This is strange, all I'm getting is 'see you in the charts.'"
No, really, erectile dysfunction is a plot point.
From here on in, naturally, things escalate because it turns out that The Bye Bye Man (Doug freaking Jones!) is some kind of malevolent entity that is capable of altering your perception of reality. He only rarely appears, with his demonic dog in tow, but mainly he just sends hallucinations to try and turn his targets murderous--like, say, by preying on their jealousy of their roommate and girlfriend. Or by making said girlfriend dissociate and draw a picture of him and his dog, which she will seem oddly calm about.
|"What, you mean you don't randomly scribble hell beasts?"
Elliot then, hilariously, both thinks and says it by telling Mrs. Watkins about the fiend. She then overly explains the film's concept that erasing an idea means erasing the thing itself, which must have been what Larry was trying to do when he killed all those people in the prologue and then--in a flashback we see now--drank drain cleaner while the Bye Bye Man watched.
Elliot decides to seek out Kim, unaware that she has just casually murdered her roommate with a hammer and intends to do the same to him, Sasha, and John. However, he is saved when she hallucinates a family in trouble by the train tracks they just drove over--for some reason she feels the need to leap out to save the family and instead gets splattered by the very real train that she didn't notice. This gets the police involved, mainly in the person of Detective Shaw (Carrie Anne-Moss!), who thinks Elliot is a suspect but also is totally willing to let him go.
After Elliot hits John in the head with a baseball bat because he hallucinated him having sex with Sasha, when actually John was just watching over her while she slept off her mystery illness, Elliot notices that Sasha found the address of Redmon's widow. After making sure no one can ever find the end table again by chucking it a few feet into the woods, Elliot leaves to visit the Widow. We oddly see him rocking the fuck out to "Bye Bye Love" by The Newton Brothers on the way there. It's somehow one of the most surreal moments in this utterly misguided film.
At the house, Elliot just walks in and is suddenly greeted by Widow Redmon (Faye freaking Dunaway!) at the top of the stairs, wielding a flashlight. This was the moment that literally had my poor fiancee rolling on the floor laughing because the visual and how she ominously greets Elliot is so absurd. But it gets even better than that because, in order to explain what Elliot has to do, the widow has a flashback of her younger self (Keelin Woodell) coming home to find her husband has gone "All work and no play" on the interior of their house with the "Don't think it, don't say it" refrain. I particularly like how he made sure to use white paint on the dark couch so his scrawling would show up.
|"Um, it was like this when I got home?"
However, Elliot has the lightbulb moment that all they need to do is realize that the Bye Bye Man's visions are not real and they'll break the power he has over them. Widow Redmon walks over to stoke the fireplace as she wonders aloud how Elliot could realize this when her late husband was too dumb to--and then she immediately catches fire. Elliot, however, tells himself that it's all in his head and, even more hilariously, we immediately see that he is actually looking at a very confused Widow Redmon.
Elliot rushes home with this information, unaware that currently Sasha is hallucinating that John is Elliot and John is hallucinating that Sasha is a zombie Kim. Naturally, Sasha is walking after John because she can't figure out why he's running away from her. You can already see where this is going.
Elliot, for his part, manages to drive right through a hallucination of John--but hilariously gloats at how he tricked the Bye Bye Man so he has his eyes off the road long enough to actually run over Mrs. Watkins. I mean, to be fair, she was inexplicably walking over to his house with a knife in order to kill him the way she had killed her husband and daughter. Still, that one's on you, Elliot.
Elliot gets home in time to find John stabbing Sasha with a pair of scissors and immediately forgets his whole game plan to beat the hallucinations. Thus, after a scuffle, he shoots John dead. Only, whoops, the person going stabby with the scissors was actually Sasha. So now Sasha is dead and John is dying. The Bye Bye Man appears then with his CGI hellhound in order to gloat, mainly by poking Elliot in the forehead in time to the doorbell downstairs ringing.
And I have to take an aside to point out that the film went to the trouble of hiring Doug Jones to play its titular monster only to put him in a hoodie and a cheap-looking monster mask and just have him stand around.
|"Excuse me, I think I'm lost: is this the audition for Six Flags Fright Fest?"
Virgil takes Alice away, hilariously telling her that the fire consuming the house can't hurt Elliot any more. They drive away after the fire trucks and ambulance arrive, at which time Alice reveals she found the two coins that Elliot left for her in the endtable--along with some weird writing. In the film's one truly clever bit, when her dad asks what the writing said, she responds with, "Daddy, you know I can't read in the dark!"
However, the film decides to go for the stinger ending anyway, by having Shaw arrive at the scene and stop the paramedics from loading John into the ambulance so she can hear what he is trying to say to her...
|"Hurry pup, let's try to ride the rails to a better movie!"
This is a film that deals with having your sense of reality warped, something that freaks my fiancee out like nobody's business, and she was never once unnerved by it.
One thing you may have noticed is that I barely mention the Bye Bye Man's appearances at all. This is because, aside from a few glimpses here and there for failed shock value, he only makes a handful of appearances. Additionally, the film makes the mistake of never explaining anything about him. All we know about the fiend is that he dresses like a hobo, he has a CGI monster dog companion that sometimes nibbles at corpses, and that he likes trains.
Now, it is true that many a film has made the opposite mistake of explaining too much about its menace and ruining what made it scary in the first place. However, this is firmly in the opposite camp. I had to Google the short story this film was inspired by, "The Bridge to Body Island" by Robert Damon Schneck, to discover that the Bye Bye Man is supposed to be the ghost of a serial killer who rode the rails to find his victims--and the dog is Gloomsinger, who was sewn together from the parts of his victims and needs to be repaired from time to time with fresh body parts. (Hence the nibbling)
Just knowing that much I can see why the short story was considered hugely effective and why someone would want to base a movie on it. However, I cannot fathom why the filmmakers decided to keep so little of those elements in their film. Then again, I cannot understand anything about this film!
What this film definitely has in common with The Room and Birdemic is that, after watching it, you are left to wonder if it was created by aliens or robots who were trying to recreate human behavior based on brief observation. There is not a single dialogue scene that sounds like an actual person would say it, not a single performance that rings true, and most of the plot developments comes across like each page of the script was being written by someone who wasn't allowed to see the pages before theirs.
It also looks so incredibly cheap, with production values that look slightly better than a mid-range SyFy Channel Original movie. The CGI Gloomsinger is actually a decent effect, but again The Bye Bye Man looks like a make-up artist had to come up with a last-minute Halloween costume and only had 30 minutes to throw it together. There's also a lot of hilarious attempts to remind us that the film is set in Wisconsin, despite having been filmed in Ohio. I mean, all college kids keep a huge, glowing sign of the state they're living in--not the college or city, mind you--in their living rooms, right?
I cannot fathom how this movie got made, was reviewed by studio executives, and then still released into theaters for people to watch. However, I can understand why it actually made a healthy profit, because surely word of mouth got out that this film was an utter trainwreck.
In short, I am saying that you, dear reader, should watch this movie immediately. This deserves to be a cult classic of sheer ineptitude. Have friends over and enjoy a merry evening of mocking this flick as mercilessly as you can, or just letting its sublime awfulness wash over you.
Although I am now dreading the inevitable direct-to-video sequel that will just simply be bad, instead of amazingly terrible. Though it can't possibly look worse.
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