Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Bye Bye Man (2017)

Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend and total non-entity – but don’t worry, the film will see her spending most of her time sick in bed and all of her time without any agency whatsoever despite it being directed by a woman - Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and their black jock buddy – yes, that’s his whole characterisation in three words but hey, it’s more than Elliot or Sasha have – John (Lucien Laviscount) move into a creepy-ass house in the woods, as students leaving home for the first time are wont to do in the peculiar parallel universe this film takes place in.

As it goes with creepy-ass houses, there’s something bad hidden away inside it. Hidden in a night stand is a spiral of scribbles saying “Don’t think it, don’t say it” over and over again. We can be sure about that too, for Elliot is the kind of guy who will read a whole spiral of crazy scribbling out loud, even when he’s at the fifth repetition. But under the note containing the scribbles, there are more…WORDS! “The Bye Bye Man”, it says, and after reading it, the creepy-ass student paradise in the woods turns very supernatural, for Elliot has inadvertently drawn in the titular entity, something that infects everyone reading or hearing its name with madness, hallucinations and murder, or in the case of the people trying to not become the thing’s victims, madness, hallucinations, murder and suicide. Yeah, I dunno if that’s much better.

Anyway, before we come to the murder (and the film’s only competent bit, special make-up effects by the Kurtzman people), the students are struck with all kinds of stupid shit – there are generic mainstream horror shocks, erectile dysfunction (seriously), a childish love triangle, a CGI monster dog, random and not so random hallucinations of various kinds of crap, and oh so very much bad acting.

Man, if you’re like me going into this afraid of another ultra-generic piece of mainstream horror, the sort of thing many horror fans decry as terrible but that to me are usually prime examples of aggressively boring competence, you are in for a surprise. For there’s nothing at all competent about Stacy Title’s (who also directed Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror, so you know we’re in good hands with her) film. It’s supposedly based on a piece by historian of the weird Robert Damon Schneck that is very close in tone to creepypasta but the film really takes very little of Schneck’s ideas (I mean, his “true story”, of course). There are train noises, coins, and a dog (well, a hilariously designed bad CGI effect that’ll mostly leave you wondering why the poor monster doggy doesn’t have any hair – too difficult to animate?), and the entity's name, of course, but that’s it. Thus are the strange and mysterious ways of the Hollywood licensing business.

What really makes the film the very special kind of train wreck it turns out to be is not just that it wastes the perfectly neat – if not exactly original anymore – idea of a supernatural menace that works as a malignant meme. It also attempts to be a psychologically based horror film without ever establishing anything much about its characters but the most basic clichés or, you know, making any psychological sense -really, any kind of sense – whatsoever. Because that’s not making the whole thing chaotic, tonally confused, and practically impossible to parse already, there are also more than just a couple of scenes that are clearly trying to be the mainstream horror thing I suspected it to be going in, just suffering from the wee problem that most of the things the film thinks are frightening are in fact hilarious, be it the monster dog, three hallucinated maggots (not enough money for more?), or good old Doug Jones dressed up like a Jedi Knight and pointing a finger (seriously). So, not only do three or four films that go off in very different directions collide here, it’s three or four terrible and misguided films.

Does all this mean I didn’t enjoy The Bye Bye Man quite a bit? Quite the opposite. While I was staring with disbelief at its ideas of what I’m supposed to be afraid of, giggling at the “daring” erectile dysfunction shenanigans that don’t actually dare to name that horrifying state of a young man’s penis, or plain failing at expecting the bizarre nonsense the film would come up with next, I had a whale of a time with the film. It’s not every day, after all, that a relatively mainstream horror production reaches the lunatic kind of badness we usually only can hope for from backstreet auteurs and enthusiastic crazy people shooting films in their parents’ gardens. This is one of those films you can’t imagine not coming from some sort of strange parallel world, where things are most probably much brighter than here, if clearly less logical.

I can’t end this happy screed without giving special shout-outs to Douglas Smith for doing all the bug-eyed grimacing the other cast members just can’t bring themselves to perform, and the script by actor (and Snoop Dogg’s Horror in the Hood veteran, what do you know?) Jonathan Penner for gifting us with choice dialogue lines like “Ah, ah, ah, ah, it’s not real!” (yes, the ah’s are just spoken like that), “the day my life went, turn, turn, turn”, or the immortal “Daddy! You know I can’t read in the dark! What do you think I am? A flashlight?”.

It is a very special film indeed.

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