Courtesy of STX Entertainment

Courtesy of STX Entertainment

January is generally a wasteland for new movies, especially horror films. While the cream of the creepy crop receive top billing in October, most cash-grab remakes and dismal sequels are dumped in January as studios quietly abandon their generic jump-scare fare to the masses.

However, something interesting occasionally finds its way into theaters. The Bye Bye Man is that rare January horror film that offers something fresh, original and, while the film doesn’t quite live up to its potential, it still creates a thrilling theater experience.

The film centers around three college students moving into an off-campus house: Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and Elliot’s best friend John (Lucien Laviscount). After discovering a strange message in a basement dresser, Elliot is haunted by a terrifying entity known as the “Bye Bye Man,” who spreads to others when his name is spoken aloud to them. In order to avoid becoming the Bye Bye Man’s next victims, the trio must avoid spreading the name to others while also trying to find a way to remove his curse once and for all.

On paper, The Bye Bye Man is a fairly solid premise for a horror film, though it’s a bit clichéd in conception. Comparisons to 2014’s phenomenal It Follows are likely to follow this film’s release, but while It Follows preys on fears of adolescent sexuality and naiveté, The Bye Bye Man has no such agenda. The Bye Bye Man isn’t interested in your sex life or your soul. He just wants you dead.

This lack of motivation both bolsters and hinders the Bye Bye Man as the film’s  central antagonist. On one hand, fears of incomprehensible evil and of the unknown are of our most primal. Our inability to know or control everything frightens us. Films like Halloween or The Fog are effective in this way, because we can’t reason or stop these evil forces; we can only run from them. The Bye Bye Man works similarly, as he strikes an imposing presence simply by standing in a corner of a shot or being viewed only in shadow. His pale white skin and reptilian eyes are creepy enough on their own, but actor Doug Jones’ emotionless face makes him even more sinister.

On the other hand, the script’s failure to address the Bye Bye Man’s  motives also hurts the movie. The villain  never speaks, so we have no  idea of his endgame. Even when the obligatory exposition dump explaining his history is provided, the movie never hints at his motivation. Does the Bye Bye Man need these souls to stay alive? Is he planning world domination? This omission makes the climax of the film fall a bit flat because we never really get a handle on what half the story

However, the film excels in some genuinely well-done sequences that showcase director Stacy Title’s knack for horror and suspense. Title constantly positions the camera so that  your eyes are forced to dart over the background, searching for eerie movement in the shadows. In a refreshing subversion of expectations, many of the static or pullback shots don’t actually end in a jump scare, which keeps the audience on the edges of their seats. It’s a real crowd-pleaser of a horror movie, but probably wouldn’t be quite as effective if  viewed in a home theater or on your laptop.

Speaking of the audience, The Bye Bye Man is one of the best examples of theater horror in recent memory. The script is littered with small moments of humor throughout that had the screening audience laughing and screaming in equal measure.

In terms of acting, Douglas Smith provides the film’s standout performance as Elliot, balancing his character’s slacker demeanor with the personality of a man on the brink of insanity. Elliot’s best friend John (Laviscount) is actually a lot of fun, providing most of the film’s jokes and nailing the delivery. The one weak link is Cressida Bonas as Sasha, who seems to fluctuate between apathy and falling asleep with each line. To say she’s wooden would be an understatement, as she feels more like a robot struggling to comprehend human emotion during every dramatic scene.

By and large, The Bye Bye Man is a welcome return to fun horror movies in theaters. It’s flawed and doesn’t turn the genre on its head, but considering that we’re in doldrums of January cinema, you can’t ask for much more. While the film is haunted by the specter of not living up to its potential, it’s still a hell of a fun ride if you watch it with the right crowd.

Grade: B-

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Film Critic Vikrant Nallaparaju is a College Sophomore from Houston, Texas studying Anthropology and Human Biology. This is his second year writing for the wheel and the first serving as film a critic. When it comes to movies, he can usually be found watching the films of Joe Dante and lamenting the fall of John Carpenter.