The Bye Bye Man
Director: Stacy Title
Stars: Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas, Lucien Laviscount, Carrie-Anne Moss, Faye Dunaway
There’s been quite a run of films clearly inspired by 1980s horror movies in the past few years – not surprising, perhaps, given that many of the current generation of directors grew up on genre classics such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th.
The resurgence has thrown up some gems, too.
In acclaimed films such as 2011’s You’re Next and 2014’s It Follows, the influences are clear – even TV shows are getting in on this nostalgic homage act, most notably Netflix’s Stranger Things last year. Sadly, The Bye Bye Man won’t be added to this illustrious list.
While It Follows, for example, took all the best elements of 1980s-style horror, shook them up and let audiences view them afresh from a 21st-century perspective, The Bye Bye Man takes the opposite approach. It takes all the best bits of 1980s horror, rips them out and leaves us with a series of tired clichés.
A cast of stereotypical teenage characters (jock, nerd, princess and a goth who suggests a séance)? Check.
An opening flashback hinting at an ancient malevolent force that will be explained (poorly) later in the film? Check.
Cute seven-year-old moppet in frilly party dress? Check.
A scene in which a coat hanging on a wall looks like a creepy, hooded figure when it is not, and then actually becomes a creepy, hooded figure? Check and check. To be fair, it is not a total disaster. There are a couple of genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moments as the tension builds – unfortunately, they are punctuated by leaden dialogue and wooden performances all round.
Veteran actress Faye Dunaway does her best to add some quality with her cameo – as another overfamiliar horror standard, the crazy widow who might hold the answer to the mystery – but not even a multi-award-winning Hollywood legend of her standing can cover up the fundamental banality of the script.
One can only wonder about the state of her pension plan when considering why she would agreed to sign up to this project.
The impressive collection of T-shirts of main character Elliot (Douglas Smith) at least gives the audience chance to play “spot the 1980s post-punk band” when the on-screen action gets tiresome, but even this – not to mention the very name Elliot itself (also that of the young hero of Steven Spielberg’s ET) – comes across as a bit of a heavy-handed attempt to underline the movie’s retro-1980s cred. If the film was a little more aware of its own silliness, and didn’t take itself so seriously, it might perhaps have made for a half-decent genre parody.
Unfortunately, director Stacy Title (The Last Supper, Let the Devil Wear Black), working from a script by her husband, Jonathan Penner, plays the whole thing with a straight face, which does the movie no favours, on top of a weak script, phoned-in performances, cheap effects and a poorly explained central mythology that leave viewers cold.
Perhaps the incomprehensible mythology will be better explained should we ever see the sequel the final scene crassly begs for – but for audiences’ sakes, let’s hope we have said “bye bye” to this one for good.