The horror genre is infamous for many things, not least its ability to a turn a profit on a low budget. This gives the misconception that horror films are therefore easy to do. Fans will baulk at this suggestion and they have every right to do so. While they tend to be profitable it’s incredibly difficult to get right. The Bye Bye Man exceeded expectations at the box office but despite its apparent popularity it hasn’t received much love from audiences and critics alike.
In present day America a trio of college students unwillingly invite an urban legend into their lives, The Bye Bye Man. An evil supernatural force that feeds on the panic of those ill-fated enough to know its name. He acts as a chain letter, latching himself onto victims who learn his name. The premise is simple and effective, cementing a solid foundation for building fear upon, including throwing the kids into a big eerie house. Unfortunately there’s a severe lack of scares.
Director Stacy Title does well to create a dark world where fear should flourish, instead there’s too many bumps in the road that prevent sustainable terror. The performances are poor, which could be excused if the characters were intended to be little less than cannon fodder. Instead Jonathan Penner’s script adds depth and unnecessary subplots that aren’t executed well on screen.
The lack of chemistry between the cast is highlighted as the focus is drawn to their fractured relationships which should heighten the tension, but instead makes us care less for the characters’ survival. There are creepy moments as Title gets a few scares by allowing the camera to linger, generating anxiety and emphasising the physical presence of the titular bogeyman. The Bye Bye Man, as played by Doug Jones, has an old school horror villain look about him. It only adds to the baffling decision to pair him with a CGI pet that diminishes his impact.
The best scenes in the film are the flashback sequences including its impressive opening. It’s here that the premise is most compelling, shrouded in mystery and contrasting wonderfully with the suburban picket fence look of 1960’s America. Leigh Whannell, better known for writing Saw and Insidious, has a cameo here that outshines everyone else in the film.
The Bye Bye Man feels like a wasted opportunity. It’s a throwback to horror films at the turn of the millennium while not realising this isn’t an era crying out for nostalgia. Despite attempting to offer something new, it feels dated as it rehashes better ideas from its predecessors.