-An occasionally effective, but mostly stale, mainstream horror flick, and the newest horror/thriller in an ever-growing catalog from A24.
I’ll admit, I like the mantra: “don’t say it, don’t think it, don’t say it, don’t think it.”
The Bye Bye Man is a horror movie released in January, which essentially means that the studios were hoping it’d do somewhere around a $10M opening and make a small profit, sliding under the various Oscar-related films that start expanding during that time of year. You know from the trailer that it isn’t going to be anything special, however there are a few effective elements of The Bye Bye Man that elevate it above the lowest grain of horror films that you usually see around that time of year.
It focuses on a group of three college students who move into an old house and begin experiencing strange events. Have you ever heard of that before?
In the middle of the night, they will hear scratching at the door, or a metal coin hit the ground and roll to the lowest point in the room. They eventually discover an old drawer with “The Bye Bye Man” written inside it. Once they say his name, he starts haunting them, causing them to hallucinate about violent deaths and their worst fears. As he gets stronger, they begin seeing him directly, a hooded figure with long fingers and a nasty attack dog. Realizing they need to take action, the teenagers begin trying to find a way to beat him.
The creature idea and design is actually pretty neat, and it’s nice that he gets stronger with the mention of his name. It’s the old idea about giving weight to whatever makes you afraid. Pieces of his backstory, who he is, how he operates, why he has a dog and those coins, and why he loves trains so much is never mentioned. It’s possible that it could be left for a sequel, but the movie didn’t know how to handle a personalizing of its monster. That’s fine by me. Over-personalization takes away the unpredictable element of the character. The best part of The Bye Bye Man is The Bye Bye Man himself. We see his effect on people with a decently eerie flashback scene to start, and there’re, throughout the hour and a half of this movie, occasional spots of terror.
The real drawback here isn’t the bloodshed, or even the overly stupid plot. As I said, there are some effective scenes here. The problem is the cast, a threesome of completely underwhelming and often unintentionally hilarious actors who do not deliver lines well. Every scene in this movie needed another take, and it really wears on you when the movie attempts to get more dramatic. Once you take away the ability to take the movie seriously, a lot of the ability for it to scare you goes away. Surprisingly, it’s not the clear fact that The Bye Bye Man was made on a conveyor belt, thrusting together pieces of other, better movies, it’s that any attempt to build tension is soiled by actors who are better off left to a TV movie.
The Bye Bye Man (2017)
Director: Stacy Title (The Last Supper, Let the Devil Wear Black, Hood of Horror)
Starring: Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas, Lucien Laviscount, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Doug Jones
RT Score: 24%
A24 films made waves by finally entering the Oscar discussion the last two years with Room and Moonlight, yet what made them such a catch for film fans was actually the studio’s ability to sniff out effective, brainy thrillers from film festivals and schedule them for state-side releases. Just a few years ago, I was writing about films such as Enemy, Under the Skin, and Locke, talking about their deeper meanings and how wonderfully crafted they were. A24 takes risks in the movies they decide to distribute, and they’ve managed to get back to their roots with The Blackcoat’s Daughter.
Although this movie cannot be mentioned in the same breath as the complete wizardry that is a movie like Enemy or Under the Skin or even last year’s The Witch, it’s clear that director Oz Perkins wanted to make a headstrong, ambient horror film with more restraint than a larger studio project. In certain aspects, it works. However, this is a flawed movie that doesn’t reach the same magic as those aforementioned films
The movie was originally titled “February,” mainly because the movie focuses on a winter break for the girls of a religious boarding school. Two girls, Lucy Boynton’s Rose and Kiernan Shipka’s Kat have not heard back from their parents yet, and are forced to stay back for a night, essentially alone in the school while a storm is coming. Kat begins acting strangely, insulting the school’s nuns, twisting wildly in the boiler room in the middle of the night, and talking to no one on the phone. Rose, trying to conceal a possible pregnancy from her parents, is growing more and more afraid of Kat.
Meanwhile, a somber mother and father run into a troubled drifter (Emma Roberts) who accepts their help and hospitality. Just know, the entire movie plays for a twist that is pretty easy to see coming. It may not be completely earned, and it may not be that exciting, but it’s not the twist that makes one of the scarier moments of the film worthwhile. Just hang in there and think about it, you’ll come to the conclusion that the final scene is about a character trying to desperately gain back something that they lost earlier in the film, and the scary part is how alone they feel despite it. The movie is decently effective in that aspect. It has a good motif and working theme, it just doesn’t earn its twist.
The film builds tension very well, and the score is very eerie. Part of what helps the build-up is that all three lead actresses are invested in this production, and all three do a really nice job. My big complaint is that the tension builds up, creating a great environment and a movie I was really interested in, only to let me down by a boring payoff. The tension is released with a substandard twist. Take away the movie’s ability to properly build to a conclusion, and I’ll lose a bit of interest in unpacking the meanings. I still think the very last shot of the film is desolate, interesting, and well-acted all at the same time, but the twenty minutes preceding it were extremely frustrating.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017)
Director: Oz Perkins (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House)
Starring: Lucy Boynton, Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, James Remar, and Lauren Holly
RT Score: 71%