‘Bye Bye Man’ does good business not despite, but because of how awful it looked

Man, whatever happened to Carrie-Anne Moss? Stills courtesy STX Entertainment.

The Bye Bye Man dramatically overperformed last weekend after a widely mocked marketing campaign, almost doubling its $7.4 million budget. So, was it any good?

No.

Shit no.

I mean, look at this trailer —

People saw this? It’s not like the movie lit the world on fire or anything — it finished No. 5 with $15.2 million and dropped all the way to No. 10 this weekend after direct competition from the much more anticipated Split, but that opening was ahead of two other new releases and expanding Oscar efforts Live by Night and Silence. This home video-looking movie beat out genuine attempts at art and much higher quality commercial efforts as well. How?

Three college students, Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and long-time best friend John (Lucien Laviscount) move in to an old house. Among the furnishings, Elliot finds an old nightstand inscribed with the words, “The Bye Bye Man.” Once he and his friends know the name, they all experience hallucinations designed to drive them to kill each other and themselves.

Look at this! Is this scary? Do you find this scary? It’s a guy in pale makeup and a hoodie. It’s nothing! He wouldn’t be out of place at a bar or a grocery store! This lazy of a design, matched with things like the Snapchat filter modeled by Detective Shaw (Moss) above, combine to undermine even this weak of a movie.

The Bye Bye Man Farewell Fellow is exactly what it looks like. It’s cheap from both a technical and an intellectual perspective, it’s aggressively unoriginal, its scares aren’t scary and there aren’t even that many of them.

The movie was obviously bound to a shoestring budget, but produced as if it had money to spare. Instead of operating within those boundaries, production sprung for obviously cut-rate CGI and cameos from Carrie-Anne Moss and Leigh Whannell. Most of its money went into a computer-generated Hell hound that looks more like a four-legged cheeseburger than anything else.

It mucks up the things that could be done cheaply as well. You can do movie-quality effects with Halloween packs from Wal Mart, and it looks like that’s what they were using to create the titular monster, but there’s nothing beyond pale makeup and long prosthetic fingers. As he becomes more prominent, it gets genuinely distracting how boring and not-scary the Bye Bye Man Adios Amigo is to look at.

They clearly didn’t waste cash on the main cast, but if you’re going with a cast of nobodies, pick good nobodies. The leads are all incredibly weak. They don’t have much to work with, anyway — writer Jonathan Penner stuck them with thin characters in a movie that doesn’t follow its own rules.

The script is also creatively bankrupt — the Bye Bye Man Ta Ta For Now Toff is a less interesting Slenderman ripoff, and the movie also jumps through hoops to fit in horror cliches like a séance scene and jump scares that are both individually awful and unnecessary, since they don’t drive the plot in any way.

Even the movie’s title reeks of blandness and unoriginality, but in a weird way, that may be why it crushed industry expectations at the box office. The movie’s serious poster combined with its silly title lead to some Photoshop mockery that ultimately helped its popularity.

Another factor that helped accessibility was the movie’s PG-13 rating, and the lengths they went to to get it are painfully obvious. The movie’s opening flashback set in the 1960s when journalist Larry Redmon (Whannell) murders everyone who’d heard the spirit’s name with a shotgun. The scene — the movie’s best, mostly because of how weak everything else is — is shockingly sterile and bloodless, to the point that it’s even more upsetting than seeing them blown to pieces would be. Some graphic nudity was also clearly edited out of later scenes.

As bad as movie is, it’s at least got some big ideas on its mind — in fact, it’s about maybe the biggest idea of all: the concept of ideas themselves.

The Bye Bye Man Gone Girl doesn’t exist as a physical entity, only as an idea. His power over the characters waxes and wanes based on how much they’re thinking of him at any given moment. He only lays hands on a character once, and even then it’s only to put a nasty thought in his head. All the movie’s killing is done by characters trying to stop knowledge of him from spreading, even though that knowledge can’t actually do anything on its own.

Elliot is already suspicious that Sasha and John are attracted to each other and worried about his family man brother, Virgil (Michael Trucco), and his hallucinations center on those issues. He’s driven to kill not by a monster, but by his own pre-existing anxieties.

Leopold Knopp is a professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, syndicated columnist at the Lewisville Texan Journal and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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