You only have to utter his name aloud once – so much more efficient than that Candyman guy! “Don’t think it, don’t say it,” folks will tell you – it’s a bit of a mantra, this phrase – but once the idea takes hold of you, it’s hard not let the bogeyman’s handle slip off your lips. It was rough for a Madison, Wisconsin journalist in 1969, who mentioned the moniker to some folks and ended up massacring his suburban neighbors. And decades later, it’s hard for Elliot (Douglas Smith), a college student who moves in to a creepy old house off-campus with his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and his best friend John (Lucien Laviscount), to keep mum once he stumbles across the name etched in some vintage furniture in their new digs.
We know Elliot is cool, because he quotes Rilke and wears Joy Division T-shirts; we know John is a hit with the ladies, because the dude is ripped and looks like a handsomer version of Drake; we know virtually nothing about Sasha, because no one has bothered to develop her character past “make her cute and have the two men fight over her.” And the bad guy du jour, the one who gives this movie its title? Well, from the pitifully small amount of time he’s onscreen, we know he looks like a cross between Voldemort and a Beverly Hills plastic-surgery disaster. We know he keeps dropping gold coins to attract attention for some reason, he prefers to travel by train like a hobo – no, really – and his companion is some sort of oversized hellhound. (So what’s with the name, and where does he come from, and why is he so evil, and why does mentioning his name make him want to kill folks, you ask? Hey, don’t worry about any of that stuff, say the filmmakers, because, like, here’s a jump scare!) And we know that he wears a shroud and once he shows up on your doorstep, he’s likely to …
[Yawn] … [Zzzzz] …
Horror-movie fans often have put up with a lot to get their requisite amount of fright per month, and that tolerance limit is seriously tested by this slapdash attempt to introduce a new slasher hall-of-fame character into the mix. You can look past the acting, which runs the gamut from passably wooden to pure Redwood forest. You can shrug off the low-rent production values, even when, say, a close-range shotgun blast to a body yields little more than a tiny, bloodless dent on a plaster wall. (This is not a joke. This is an extremely accurate description of a featured kill.) You can even sigh wearily and say “whatever” to the sheer lack of Basic Narrative Logic 101 on display, the inability of director Stacy Title (The Last Supper) to sustain tension or the fact that the most horrifying aspect of this movie is that actresses like Carrie Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway – Faye Fucking Dunaway! – have been reduced to appearing in dreck like this.
But not having any respect for the genre or its fans and expecting us to simply swallow whatever peripherally qualifies as “horror” simply because we have so few options? Or, worse, banking on the idea that we will blindly embrace whatever is forced upon us in the name of scary-movie loyalty? That’s unforgivable. There may be worse horror films than The Bye Bye Man this year, but there will be none that shows more contempt for its intended audience. You can insert your own joke about the “bye bye” in the title here. Then, for the love of Leatherface, forget this tragedy ever existed at all.