When Cabin in the Woods was made, it had one, simple message to the horror genre: ‘Try Harder’. And no genre needed that more than modern horror – In an age of lazy Conjuring and Slenderman knock-offs, where so much horror isn’t anything to do with suspense or terror but a startling jumpscare, how could anything else need it more?
…And despite that message, we still end up with complete shit like 2017’s *sigh* The Bye Bye Man. Yes, really.
Written by Johnathan Penner and directed by Stacy Title, The Bye Bye Man is based on a chapter of Robert Damon Schneck’s book, The President’s Vampire – A collection of supposedly true tales imparted to the author by various friends, family, and contacts. And whilst that book is supposedly genuinely creepy at points, this movie – at best – is unintentionally hilarious.
The movie certainly opens promisingly enough though – Set in 1969, we see a journalist (Larry Redmon, played by Leigh Whannall) commit a killing spree around his neighbourhood with a shotgun. The pacing of this scene is somewhat intense, and the mystery of Redmon apologising for ‘having’ to kill his neighbours, whilst repeating that he can’t think or say something, is interesting, and the CGI in the kills are even passable, aided by decent practical effects. Sadly, this is the closest to good horror the movie ever gets.
We flash forward to ‘the modern day’, and meet our cast: The generically handsome Elliot (Douglas Smith), character trait is ‘girlfriend’ Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and jock-archtype John (Lucien Laviscount). They are average college students, and have just realistically rented out the now-abandoned Redmon place with all the money students totally have.
The movie quickly descends into something out of the early 00’s – There’s ‘Shh, did you hear that?’ set ups, a house warming party, bad child acting, and lazy character motivations all within the first 20 minutes. Basically, Sasha ‘gets a feeling’ there’s something wrong with the house because noises, and Elliot whines to his brother, Virgil (Michael Trucco), about how he’s jealous Virgil has a life whilst he has nothing, a stupid plot point considering even the brother’s basically ‘No shit, you’re in college, and you also have a girlfriend, so the fuq you complaining about..?’
The first unintentionally funny moment is when the movie does what so many crappy horror movies do, and straight up shows the supernatural entity. Virgil’s daughter, Alice (Erica Tremblay), is wandering her uncle’s new house shortly after the party, and ends up in the bedroom. She finds a weird little door in the side of the room, which is also on the other side of the room. She opens it, and looks inside and we see…
It’s at this point I’d like to inform you the movie cost $7.4 *million* dollars to make.
Some random coins fall from the bedside table – a remnant from the Redmon days that was fished from the basement. She leaves and nothing happens, but this gives an excuse for the draw to be open, so Elliot can look inside it later. When he does, he finds the coins (Fun fact: These go nowhere), and that there’s scribbling inside – ‘Don’t think it, don’t say it’, over and over again. And underneath it all is the forbidden phrase itself.
The monster’s name: The Bye Bye Man.
To ease Sasha’s concerns, obligatory 00’s new-age goth friend, Kim (Jenna Kandell), is brought in to perform a seance. At first, things go well – Kim doesn’t sense anything, and is able to contact Sasha and Elliot’s deceased relatives. But they are concerned for their loved one’s safety – And it’s then that ‘bad vibes’ start to happen, and things get totes spooky. Kim warns an entity is coming, something terrifying, and Elliot fucks them all over by saying the name. One of those sharp, post-edit jumpscare noises happens, the candles go out, and Kim falls to the ground, sobbing.
They then all go to sleep; I have no idea where Kim stays during this time, so maybe they just leave her on the floor or something. At any rate, Elliot gets a night visit from Mr. Bye Bye himself.
…And, as an aside, the movie fucking LOVES this coat. It’s used like, another two times as a spook.
John drives Kim home in the morning, and witnesses a hallucination – The first of many to now plague athe group. John’s hallucinations are just random spooky stuff, like maggots dripping from Kim’s eyes, whilst Elliot begins seeing things that lead him to suspect Sasha and John may be cheating. Sasha only gets like, two hallucinations in the entire film – one sexy John, and one weird one near the end where she thinks John is Elliot for really no reason on the entity’s part – but she does develop a mysterious cough. That doesn’t really go anywhere, except she coughs in a few scenes, and there’s a scene of padding where she complains about being cold to her botany teacher in a greenhouse (Which I think is just self-serving – the screenwriter is the teacher in this scene). There’s also a scene where Elliot discovers scratch marks left by what Wikipedia assures me is the Bye Bye Man’s skinless hound (The weird thing from the scene with the niece).
Later, Elliot decides to research The Bye Bye Man at the local library – Generic search engine, Search, has 0 results because I guess no-one has ever made anything with the words ‘bye’ or ‘man’ on the internet. He does, however, manage to find the phrase ‘Don’t say it, don’t think it’ listed in the library archives. The librarian, Mrs. Watkins (Cleo King, longing for the days of The Color Purple), helps Elliot dig around and discover what appears to be an unpublished copy of Larry Redmon’s article on a local teenage serial killer. Basically, this teen explained to Redmon it was the Bye Bye Man that caused him to do it. Infact, we randomly cut to the very end of Mr. Redmon’s killing spree, where we see Man and Dog fully before Redmon suicides with rat poison.
Whilst this situation explains why Redmon killed his neighbours at the begining of the move, it does cause some issues. I can buy that he’d forget about the draw in his apart purge of Bye Bye info, as the movie explains that people just sort of zone out at points, but like… Why did he miss this article draft? Why is it in a university library archive? Who the fuck transcribed it to the archive listing but apparently wasn’t affected by the phrase? Why did the teen even tell Redmon in the first place, considering he obviously knew knowing the name was bad?
I guess we shouldn’t think about it – The screenwriter didn’t.
Anyway, after the flashback, Elliot begins to scribble out the name in the article, and Mr. Bye Bye comes to play some musical chairs are played.
After that stops, Elliot lets Mrs. Watkins know about the Bye Bye Man as well, so she’s fucked. He later picks up Kim, to go over the situation – Kim, unbenownst to him, has figured out the entire Bye Bye Man gimmick, and has killed her roommate before the meet. She tells Elliot what he should have already figured out – that knowing the name dooms you, saying/thinking it brings him – and says they have to kill everyone so it doesn’t affect anyone else. Which would logically include the two of them. This actually doesn’t get much response out of Elliot, because Elliot is not good at picking up obvious clues like this.
Luckily for him though, despite being aware of the fact the Bye Bye Boy shows you things, when Kim sees a car accident on the traintracks that Elliot doesn’t and says so, she falls for it, gets them to stop the car, and runs off to get hit by a train. A derp.
The police show up at the scene of the accident (But only that evening for some reason), and… Wait, is that fucking Trinity?!
Oh. I’m sorry this happened to your career, Carrie-Anne Moss. I hope you’re the reason the movie cost so much to make, at least.
Anyway, Detective Shaw proceeds to interrogate the group over the accident, and has a weird but amazing moment with John.
She takes Elliot in for further questioning, as it all looked super suspicious to the driver of the train, what with him chasing her and all that. Elliot proceeds to keep dicking Shaw around by saying he can’t tell her what’s really going on instead of just, like, telling her but not saying the thing’s name. The concept of honesty is discussed, and Elliot makes a case that he’s protecting Shaw by not telling her, just like she would protect her children by not telling them about the details of her work. Amazingly, this seems to work – He’s let go, but mostly because they can’t prove anything, and they discover that Kim left a note taking blame for the murder of the roommate, and planned murders of Elliot, Sasha, and John anyway.
Elliot later hallucinates some more infidelity between his friends, and decides to track down Mr. Redmon’s wife, who he just sort of… Knows about now. He figures that since she’s still alive, she must have figured out a way to beat the Bye Bye Boogie. He arrives at her house, and we unfortunately learn that this movie has yet another star way too good for it – Golden girl of 20th century cinema, Faye Dunaway.
Mrs. Redmon explains that she’s alive because her husband never actually told her the name, and when he figured out weird shit was happening because of it, he did the smart thing and tell her all about it without saying the words. See Elliot, it’s not that hard.
She re-iterates Kim’s idea that you kind of have to kill everyone, and gives him a revolver to do so. The Bye Bye Man tries to trick Elliot into mercy killing Mrs. Redmon by making him think she’s caught on fire from her fireplace, but in a rare moment of intelligence, Elliot realises Mrs. Redmon is fine, and it’s just a hallucination – Which breaks the illusion, leaving Mrs. Redmon just looking at him like he’s crazy (He is).
Elliot leaves, determined that maybe if they’re not afraid of the Bye Bye Man, he can’t hurt them, despite the fact that has nothing to do with his actual gimmick.
Mrs. Watkins calls Elliot on the way home, and wants to meet up to discuss the weird Bye Bye Man visions she’s been having since his research at the library – he kind of brushes her off though. She’s already killed her family, however, so she starts making her way to Elliot’s regardless of an invitation (How she knows where some random student lives is a mystery). He gets distracted, and actually runs her over on the way home. Elliot watches her die, and runs the rest of the way home (The car got totalled – Mrs. Watkins was a big woman).
Meanwhile, at home, Sasha begins to hallucinate that John is Elliot for no real reason, and John begins to hallucinate that Sasha is the tormented spirit of Kim, after him for revenge (Despite the fact the two had very little screen time together and he was in no way involved in her death). John keeps running away from Sasha, freaking out, and Sasha just keeps following him around like a moron – We know from her perspective she can see ‘Elliot’ freaking out and telling her to stay away, and she fully believes in the Bye Bye Man stuff, but she doesn’t just… Stop following him. She accidentally corners John upstairs, who then goes for a pair of scissors…
Elliot arrives home, and hears noises upstairs. Rushing up, he discovers John, brutally stabbing Sasha. In the fucking face.
Sasha somehow knows Elliot has a gun, which Elliot doesn’t question, and begs him to shoot John to save her. He tackles John instead, and in the ensuing struggle, the gun goes off anyway, killing John.
OR DID IT?
Yep, the Buy Buy Mister Michael Jackson’d him. Elliot, distraught over the fact he’s killed the love of his life, ignores his writhing and still very much alive best friend’s serious injuries to grieve. The Bye Bye Man and Definitely A Dog come to mock Elliot, with the former delivering brutal pokes to the forehead for reasons.
Then the doorbell rings – It’s Virgil and Alice, from the start of the movie, here to visit at like 9PM for no real reason! The Bye Bye Man expresses interest, and, horrified, Elliot rushes downstairs to shoo them away from the monster that cannot actually affect them. It quickly becomes evident to Virgil that something’s really wrong with his brother, and he tries to send Alice back to the car, but like all dumb child characters, she hasn’t picked up on the situation and insists she really needs to use the bathroom instead. Virgil sends Alice to pee in the trash, whilst trying to figure out why his increasingly distraught brother won’t let him in.
Elliot, being the idiot he is, doesn’t want to say the name to the brother, but keeps saying ‘Bye Bye’ as the Bye Bye Buddy walks down the stairs. Taking gun in hand, he apologises to his brother, and finally does the smart thing and blow out what little brains he has.
Also, the house starts to catch fire, and Virgil watches it with his daughter. No, Elliot didn’t start the fire before heading downstairs or anything. There’s just fire now.
Fire fighters and police come to the scene, and an officer discusses the situation with Detective Shaw – Kim’s death, Mrs. Watkins killing her family, and now this. He expresses concern that they had Elliot in custody but let him go. Shaw defends that decision as she felt like ‘something more was going on’. The cop gives her a look like ‘No shit there was, there was apparently some sort of murder cult we failed to stop?’
Virgil and Alice drive home, and Alice reveals that she saw the draw with the scribbles out in the trash – But she couldn’t read it because it was dark. So I guess we know those two are safe, despite the fact we already knew that. *shrugs*
Back at the house, John is discovered to be alive, and wheeled out to the ambulance on a gurney. Detective Shaw goes over to him, and asked what happened. John, having inherited the idiot ball of Elliot like some mentally deficient version of Highlander, begins trying to tell her, and Carrie-Anne Moss looks up at the camera as he whispers, hoping to god there isn’t a sequel.
The Bye Bye Man is, through and through, a lazy shit of a movie. It’s not even an original work, instead being a half-assed adaptation – The stuff with the coins, the train, the dog? All of that is lifted from the book, but without any of the explanation the book provides – Like that the Bye Bye Man was an albino serial killer when alive, who got around by train, who built the dog out of his victim’s flesh… All of that’s here, but just not explained. Which is weird – The movie will go out of its way to include padding like the greenhouse or an Elliot classroom scene, but heavens forbid we learn anything about the threat of the movie.
The CGI of the movie is also truly middling – Just take the below GIF as an example of what was deemed ‘acceptable’. That sort of obvious, sliding-ontop-of-the-film-itself quality is omnipresent throughout the movie, which is a shame, as the few times they do use practical effects – like with Mrs. Watkin’s corpse – it’s quality stuff. But whoever ok’d that dog was just… I don’t think they’ve ever seen a dog, nor imagined what a monsterous one could look like. Resident Evil 3 had better evil dogs than that poor thing. And the Bye Bye Man’s design was somewhere between Lord Voldemort and Emperor Palpatine; they could have gone for something more terrifying.
When it comes to the cast, they’re sort of generic looking for the most part, all wearing dark ass clothing and smothered in makeup to make them look tormented. I’ll freely admit the first time Elliot was introduced wearing glasses in a scene, I legit thought he was a new character for a few moments.
They’re all alright actors for the most part, sans Mr. I Wrote The Movie, and Alice – one probably shouldn’t sounds bored when they see their uncle’s house on fire. King, Dunaway and Moss deserve much better than this film. Somehow, they didn’t give up the moment they realised the movie was legit called The Bye Bye Man. Could you imagine trying in a film called that? No. Of course you couldn’t. Such is the strength of the hardcore actor.
And yet, despite how crap this movie is… I would recommend you watch it. Why? Because, despite the fact it is a lazy mess of a film, it’s an entertaining one. Whilst not at the levels of The Room or Birdemic, of course, there’s still plenty of moments you’ll question why something is happening, or just laugh at how shitty something is portrayed. And in that way, it’s great. It’s a little bit 00’s, a little bit ‘My First Movie’. I certainly didn’t mention all the dumb moments this film has – For example, there’s a hallucination where the cast is all just naked on a train track for no fucking reason.
Cabin in the Woods told the horror industry to try harder, and asked fans to expect more. Perhaps by supporting this sort of movie, we’ve all failed that request. But if something is so pathetically majestic, is it fair to for us to ignore it? We certainly didn’t ask for The Bye Bye Man, and indeed would be better off without it… But it is here. So, whilst we should want more from movies in general… Maybe if a shitty film does happen, we should just accept it. Embrace it. Get a few friends over, have a few drinks, and pop on Netflix, where this film can be easily watched. It’s only an hour and forty minutes, and doesn’t feel like it.
Whilst The Bye Bye Man might be something those involved don’t want to say or think about ever again, I say spread that curse freely amongst your loved ones for a good ol’ time.