JANUARY 13, 2017
Had I gone to a Thursday night showing of The Bye Bye Man, I probably would have seen it with more people, but I likely would have missed out on what became the only memorable part of what was a Friday morning viewing with three other sad bastards. For those uninitiated to the Bye Bye Man's whims, one of his calling cards is to drop a coin near an intended victim, for reasons that will never be known to us. As such things go, it ranks somewhere between the keys jingling in Venom and Shocker's limp, i.e. it's kind of lame, but it paid off about halfway through the movie, when one of the other people there (so, 25% of the crowd) moved his coat or something and a coin fell out, rattling on the floor and making me laugh out loud at what I might have thought was a William Castle-esque gag if I thought for one second there would be that much of a spark to this movie.
You know that great Key & Peele skit about Gremlins 2, where a guy goes around the room asking for random ideas and demands they all go into the movie? (The final "all of that is in the movie" joke might work even better on someone who hadn't seen Gremlins 2, rather than someone like me who loved it - but it's still hilarious.) It seems like this thing was written in a similar manner, with a bunch of people just throwing out ideas for what might be cool in a horror movie (A boogeyman! A giant dog! ...uh, coins!), but without a genius like Joe Dante to make something memorable out of all the seemingly ill-fitting elements. Add in the fact that the three leads are among the least interesting in modern horror history (I watched Friday the 13th Part 7 again yesterday, and even those generic assholes were slightly more appealing) and that none of the movies plot threads ever really pay off, and you have an early frontrunner for what I hope will be the low point for big-screen horror this year.
To be fair re: plot threads, the movie was cut from an R to a PG-13, though it still runs 93 minutes (well past the minimum allowance) and includes a couple scenes that have neither scares nor plot points (including one where a character goes to see a florist who doesn't know anything), so my finely-tuned sense for these things tells me that the original cut wouldn't have helped much, if at all. A lack of gore wasn't the movie's problem (ironically, this is the same issue I take with F13 7), and if they were just trying to cut it down to get people in and out of there (aka the Dimension maneuver), there was still plenty they could have chucked. I could still be wrong, and if an extended cut comes along I'll be happy to apologize if so, but THIS VERSION is the one they're asking people to pay to see, so I can't let them off the hook on the small chance it might have been more satisfying at one point.
A big part of the problem is that it's got all these specific things (like the aforementioned coins) but zero explanation for their presence. Now, the lack of exposition isn't a bad thing as a rule - I obviously have no problem with it in Halloween - but you have to keep things simple if you're going to go the vague route. You can't just have a ghost train, and a giant demon dog, and all these other very specific, would-be iconic things without even the slightest indication of what they mean or represent. Yes, Halloween itself doesn't explain why he's chasing Laurie, but he's a blank slate anyway. It'd be like if the Shape was, I dunno, swinging a yo-yo around and leaving a piece of cake on each victim's corpse or something. You can have a cool little tic that isn't explained, but Bye Bye Man clearly has this giant backstory, while the film gives zero context for anything we see. It's not creepy or offbeat, it's just frustrating - we hear the sound of a coin drop every day, so we need to know what the significance of THIS coin is in order for it to provide the desired effect. It'd be like if Leprechaun didn't explain that he had a thing about dirty shoes and yet kept in all the scenes where he acts upon that handicap
But even if we had all that motivation and gap-filling, we'd still have to deal with our bland heroes, whose names I couldn't even keep straight while I was watching the movie. There's a guy, his girlfriend, and his best friend (who is maybe sleeping with the girlfriend; there's a lot of weird moments between the two of them before Bye Bye Man even shows up and makes it worse, but it's never clarified - shocking, right?), and they've just rented an off-campus house, which comes with all the furniture but it's all been placed in the basement for reasons unknown. Why would someone move a bed down two flights of stairs (one tiny and shown to be dangerous - there's no payoff for it, naturally)? The previous owners didn't clean it up or anything, so the whole thing is, I guess, just an excuse to set a scene in the creepy basement that we rarely see again. Bye Bye Man's history doesn't even have anything to do with the house, best as I can tell, so it's just a lot of cumbersome plotting for no real reason. Anyway, as the movie proceeds we don't really learn much about them; the hero lost his parents at an early age and the best friend was the only one that was there for him (his older brother, another character we see a few times, apparently wasn't there for him?), and the girl... uh, gets a cold. Seriously. She spends the whole movie sniffling. She likes lemon in her tea, and I think that's about as much as we learn about her.
And it's a shame, because it actually starts off really strong, with a '60s set flashback showing a man (Leigh Whannell in suburban dad mode!) blowing away his family and then some neighbors while asking them if they said the name to anyone. Since we bought a ticket and know the plot we can assume what name he is referring to, but for someone going in blind this would be an even more effective sequence, as you'd be just as confused as the people he is killing (instead of seeing it from his perspective and knowing that he's killing them to prevent more people from dying). That said, it's still a pretty chilling sequence either way, and buys the film more time than it deserves; it wasn't until (sigh) a seance sequence later on that I realized the opener's goodwill had died off and I was starting to get fairly annoyed by the damn movie. Every now and then there is another moment that feels inspired, like a bit where two characters both see the other as someone else that they're afraid of, but the movie always botches it (in this case, once one finally attacks the other, it's not clear when or even IF the hallucination goes away with it).
The older characters fare slightly better, because they at least bring along baggage/good memories of their past glories to distract us, unlike the lesser known heroes who do nothing to make us remember them. Whannell pops up again in one other scene later, a flashback narrated by, of all people, Faye Dunaway, who I can only assume happened to be in someone's social circle and they called in a favor, because she rarely does things like this and I can't imagine why she'd break tradition for this particular film. Fittingly for a movie that seemingly can't tell the difference between what we should know and what we don't care about, she merely explains why she (Whannell's character's wife) is still alive, because she didn't ever hear the name. So they introduce a character for the sole purpose of explaining to us why she wasn't dead, wasting five minutes that could have been applied elsewhere, but left in the movie because it means another good name for the credit block. Carrie-Anne Moss gets slightly better treatment as the late-arriving detective who inexplicably lets our hero go after - this is amazing - he is seen brandishing a hammer and chasing a screaming woman into the path of a train (a real one, not a ghost one). He manages to pull this off by convincing her that he simply can't tell her what's 'going on' because she'd be dead too, something this veteran officer of the law buys with zero evidence. To be fair, he offers a decent analogy of her lying to her kids that her day was fine when she really saw a dead person, saying it's the same sort of thing that he is hiding from her to protect her, but, you know - witnesses, an actual dead girl as opposed to a theoretical one, etc.
Moss is hardly the only character that doesn't act like a human being, however. I was quite delighted with the librarian who helps our hero find some background info on Whannell's character, who was working on a Bye Bye Man story when he went on his killing spree. Not only is she the most actively interested librarian in history, she later calls the kid on his cell (he's got her number programmed in!) and tells him she wants to meet up, after which we pan down and see that she's killed two people (her family, we can assume, but as we haven't met them or even knew they existed until this moment, and all we see are their motionless legs, it's not even clear if it's like, her husband and a kid, two kids, a kid and the babysitter, a husband and a mistress... you get the idea. Then later, our hero is driving along (listening to "Bye Bye Love", because the movie hasn't made you roll your eyes enough) when he gets distracted and ends up running her over - because she was apparently on her way to kill him by walking down the middle of the street? And why did she kill her kids (?) anyway when she already knew the whole thing about it? Or did she, like the hero does at a key moment, while knowing that they're not supposed to say the name out loud, say it anyway and then cover their mouth like it's Jim Carrey in Liar Liar?
This is such a bad movie, guys.
What say you?
P.S. If you absolutely must watch the goddamn thing, you will get to hear the lamest kids' joke in history, courtesy of the hero's niece. It's almost endearing.