The newest movie villain to haunt your nightmares is a pasty demonic spirit who looks like Voldemort and dresses like the Grim Reaper. Stalking his victims, he jumps out of closets and photobombs their pictures, making them see things that aren’t real, until they go mad with homicidal rage.
His name? The Bye Bye Man.
That moniker sounds like something a toddler would dream up. And although the horror film of the same name is not quite as silly as that, it isn’t much better. The derivative work doesn’t deliver scares so much as a few starts, all while ripping off such genre classics as “Candyman” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
The luckless victim at the center of the story is Elliot (Douglas Smith), a college kid who just moved into a creepy off-campus rental with his best bud John (Lucien Laviscount) and girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas). Life seems perfect until Elliot makes the mistake of looking in the bedside table of this fully furnished haunted house. Obsessively scrawled inside the drawer is the mantra of the movie: “Don’t think it. Don’t say it.”
“It” is revealed when Elliot pulls back the drawer lining to see the comically non-terrifying name. “The Bye Bye Man,” he says, out of idle curiosity, not realizing that he has sealed his fate.
As it turns out, anyone who says the name gets a visit, and the more friends and acquaintances a person tells, the more people the spirit haunts. The Bye Bye Man is basically a fatal virus. It spreads fast when the afflicted person can’t keep his or her mouth shut.
Elliot and his friends start having weird visions and hearing chilling noises. Huge scratches appear on the walls that only Freddy Krueger could have made. (Speaking of Freddy, some of the score sounds a little too much like “Elm Street.”) Of course there’s a mysterious backstory to all this that isn’t too hard for Elliot to track down at the local library. If only he weren’t so forthcoming with the poor librarian.
“The Bye Bye Man” had a relatively modest budget, and it shows in the special effects, which tend to be more funny than scary. Even a conscious effort to suspend disbelief is undone by the hammy dialogue and stilted delivery, especially from Bonas (best known as Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriend), who struggles with an American accent. Her inexperience is balanced by a cameo from veteran actress Faye Dunaway, who seems to be the only one in on the joke.
Director Stacy Title earned an Academy Award nomination for the 1993 live-action short “Down on the Waterfront,” and she re-teamed with her fellow nominee, writer Jonathan Penner, for this. Penner adapted the script from a story by Robert Damon Schneck with a much more ominous title: “The Bridge to Body Island.” The dialogue does the story no favors, but the movie is at least smartly edited to maximize the surprise factor. It’s also not nearly as gory as most horror movies, which explains the PG-13 rating.
That could open it up to a wider audience, but should it? Don’t think it. And definitely don’t see it.
One and one-half stars. Rated PG-13. Contains terror, violence, bloody images, sexuality, partial nudity, some coarse language and teen drinking. 96 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.