When a studio shoots a film and holds onto it for two years, that’s a bad sign. When a film is dumped into the vortex that is January, that’s a bad sign. When a film is shot as an R-rated film and the studio — in a naked attempt to lure more viewers — edits it down to PG-13, that’s a bad sign. “The Bye Bye Man” just may have been doomed from the start.
The plot unfolds with Elliot (Douglas Smith, HBO’s “Big Love”), a college student; his girlfriend, Sasha (Cressida Bonas); and his pal, John (Lucien Laviscount) renting a creepy as hell house, because, well, who doesn’t jump at the chance to rent a portal to hell? Inside their tenement of doom, the gang notices a bedside table marred with an inscription. It reads “The Bye Bye Man.” By uttering those very words, the trio of college kids unleash an evil spirit that claims the life of anyone who knows the malevolent entity’s name. So, this film could have been avoided if the kids had made a trip to IKEA and picked up a Nesna or a Hemnes? But then, the public would have been robbed of this sadly generic supernatural horror film. The plot is a jumping off point for the horror to leap out at you, not always successfully. Still, even with the film’s flaws, there are a few decent scares. There is a long history of studios burning through uninspired horror films in January. “The Bye Bye Man” is part of that proud tradition.
Smith was quite good on “Big Love” as the son of a polygamous family. He was adept at showing the hurt and confusion of someone who was coming of age in a world that he didn’t understand. The actor was even enjoyable as Tyson in “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.” Here, Smith is tasked with doing most of the heavy lifting to push the story forward. There’s a point in an actor’s career when they can carry a film, Smith has not reached it yet. He is, however, miles ahead of Cressida Bonas, who seems to have been given the role based on the fact that she briefly dated England’s Prince Harry.
Bonas acting is a long way from being serviceable, even in the world of horror films. Suffice to say, Jamie Lee Curtis’ title as Scream Queen is safe for the time being. Lucien Laviscount is adequate. At least you can watch him and not notice that he’s acting. Jenna Kanell helps round out the Scooby gang as the psychic friend. It’s damning with faint praise to say she is the best supporting player. Doug Jones plays the title character. He stays in the shadows, mostly, and has an unsettling appearance, but not a scary one.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag, and director Stacy Title has not directed a film in a decade. Her husband, Jonathan Penner, wrote the screenplay to this ill fated opus. The filmmaker’s previous work has been fairly standard, but at least watching “Let the Devil Wear Black” did not leave me feeling disappointed. “The Bye Bye Man” did just that.