“The Bye Bye Man” is a moldy slice of Wisconsin-set cheese, a horror film that manages as many unwanted laughs as frights.
But there was just enough here — maybe in the pitch, if not the script — to attract the Great Faye Dunaway and fanboy icon Carrie-Anne Moss, who show up for chewy moments in the third act.
It’s a “Boogeyman/Candyman/Bloody Mary” variation. Say his name, and “The Bye Bye Man” comes to getcha.
You experience hallucinations that cause you to commit violence. A silver dollar keeps falling on the floor, you see and hear trains.
And then this spectral wraith, a “reaper,” shows up in a hooded cloak, his trusty Hellhound by his side.
A badly-acted 1969 prologue shows a tearful man stumbling through his neighborhood, asking friends if they “told anyone” a story he passed on to them. He shotguns anybody who says “Yes,” and kills anybody they mentioned this Bye Bye Man to.
“Don’t think it, don’t say it,” he mutters over and over, a mantra for protection that never comes.
Forty-seven years later, three college kids — a romantic couple (Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas) and the guy’s best friend (Lucien Laviscount) rent a remote old brick two-storey. Elliot (Smith) stumbles into writing in an old end table drawer, and says the fateful name.
Next thing you know, he’s seeing eyes glowing in the dark, hearing this silver dollar (that everybody in the movie refers to as “gold”) rattle to the floor. And he’s dreaming about this train. Let’s call a seance and see what’s up.
Bad things ensue, fomenting jealousy, paranoia, other people saying the name and a rising sense of moral duty. They can’t tell anyone else what is happening, because if they repeat the name, it’ll happen to them, too.
Elliot’s research has to go far beyond Googling “Bye Bye Man,” and the wise old widow (Dunaway) and sympathetic cop (Moss) show up.
The visions and hallucinations are bloody and maggot-infested, or as bloody as a PG-13 movie allows. Dead college kid movies don’t work as PG-13s, ask any horror fan. The violence and sex aren’t explicit enough to alarm or titillate.
Filmmaker Stacy Title puts his reaper into glimpsed moments of background, in mirrors or shadows. And those shots never deliver the jolt that some dreaded “Now we see it” horror is supposed to deliver.
The leads are adequate, but Smith lifts his game for his scenes with Moss and Dunaway. There might have been a better picture in all this, but then again, maybe not.
“Don’t think it, don’t say it,” sure. Don’t see it, either.
Don’t fear the reaper, kids.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for terror, horror violence, bloody images, sexual content, thematic elements, partial nudity, some language and teen drinking
Cast: Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas, Lucien LaviscountCarrie-Anne Moss, Faye Dunaway
Credits:Directed by Stacy Title, script by based on a Robert Damon Schneck short story. An STX release.
Running time: 1:30