Friday, January 13, 2017

The Bye Bye Man: What’s My Name, *****?

He must be more powerful than Candyman, because you need only say or think his name once, without looking in a mirror, to invoke this bogeyman. On the other hand, Candyman had that killer hook—but this evil cat has a dog—but that spectral pooch hardly does anything. Regardless, if you say his name, you’re pretty much toast in Stacy Title’s The Bye Bye Man (trailer here), which opens today nationwide.

Elliot, his out-of-his-league girlfriend Sasha, and his player best bud John are about to rent a spacious but decidedly creaky off-campus house together. Sasha and John seem to get along super-well together, so foreshadowing. Something feels wrong about the place, so Sasha has Kim, their classmate with the shine do a cleansing after their housewarming kegger. Unfortunately, Elliot’s kneejerk Richard Dawson materialism spurs Kim to stage a how-do-you-like-them-apples séance, during which the E-man foolishly drops the name he saw scrawled on a discarded night stand: “Bye Bye Man.” Thanks to him, they are all as good as dead.

Once you call him, Bye Bye Man gets in your head, showing visions of your darkest fears and tricking you with hallucination. The afflicted commonly resolve to kill everyone they have told, in order to break the chain of terror. That is what happens in the prologue and that is that is the course of action Kim chooses. Unfortunately, the college town cops blame Elliot for her carnage, which is not completely unfair given the circumstances.

It is worth noting Bye Bye was directed by Stacy Title, who made a splash with her feature debut, The Last Supper. As a pitch-black satire on the horrors of political polarization, it obviously speaks to our time. When celebrities seriously advocate martial law to prevent candidates they disagree with from taking office, it is safe to say the time has come for her tale of liberals poisoning right-wingers, out of a sense of smug moral superiority.

Bye Bye is nowhere near as zeitgeisty, but Title still derives some efficient scares from her canny use of moody sets and lighting. It is also pretty inspired when the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” pops up in the third act. (If only they’d had a video clip of the late great John McLaughlin’s “bye bye” sign-off.) The problem is, even with Doug Jones under the make-up, Bye Bye Man just doesn’t resonate. While he looks like an archetypal reaper, he is a distant figure, whereas you always knew it was personal with Tony Todd’s Candyman.

Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas, and Lucien Laviscount are all adequately competent but never particularly memorable as the three housemates. To her credit, Jenna Kanell brings some refreshing attitude and energy as “sensitive” Kim. However, nobody can top Faye Dunaway’s weird scene as the mysterious widow Redman. Just try to get your head around her credits: Network, Bonnie and Clyde, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Bye Bye Man. Unfortunately, Carrie-Anne Moss’s appearances as the completely unintuitive Det. Shaw just sets her up to be the focus of a potential sequel.

You have seen better than Bye Bye Man and you have seen far, far worse. At least, the execution is tight, so hopefully the Oscar-nominated Title can use it as a stepping stone to a more ambitious project. More or less okay-ish, it opens today (1/13) in multiple New York theaters, including the AMC Empire.