The Bye Bye Man evokes many classic horror concepts, but twists them in a terrifying new direction. This is a scary film, and just to add a few more goose bumps, it opened on Friday the 13th. Whenever you see it, you’ll be caught up in its premise that you won’t find the world’s worst horrors standing in front of you, they’ll come from inside your mind.
The cast includes young talents Douglas Smith (Big Love, Miss Sloane), Cressida Bonas (Doctor Thorne), Lucien Laviscount (Coronation Street, Scream Queens), and Jenna Kanell (The Vampire Diaries). It also features pivotal cameos by veteran stars Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix, Memento) and Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown).
The preview screening took place at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, near all those celebrity footprints enshrined in cement. The audience included people who worked on the film, other filmmakers, students, and die-hard movie fans willing to wait in line for hours to see if any seats would be left over. After the screening, director Stacy Title (The Last Supper, Let the Devil Wear Black), screenwriter Jonathan Penner (Let the Devil Wear Black), and producer Trevor Macy (The Strangers, Oculus) conducted a question and answer session with the crowd.
Have I Seen This Before?
The film is based on what is purported to be a true story researched and put in book form by occultist historian Robert Damon Schneck about the disappearance of three college students in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin in 1990. Producer Trevor Macy said that what attracted him to the story was that it came with a warning. “Not only was it based on true events,” he said, “but it explicitly said that anybody who has obsessive thoughts or can’t get scary notions out of their heads shouldn’t read it.”
Macy did not extend that warning to his film, however.
Based on the previews, I was anticipating a Candyman or Beetlejuice type villain who could be summoned by repeating their name three times. Once it began, I was reminded of cabin-in-the-woods style plots and a little way in of the Phantasm films. But, The Bye Bye Man is much darker and more insidious and psychological.
All these echoes of other films might be there because screenwriter Penner is also the author of Horror Cinema, a book which explores the cultural, psychological, and esthetic underpinnings of classic horror films. Despite all the classic nuances, however, the story takes you in an original direction.
Scary or Not?
I rarely react viscerally to horror movies, but during this screening I was sitting next to actress Olivia Castanho (IMDb) and there were yelps, jumps, and gasps. She later gave an impressive performance denying that she was that scared, but I heard what I heard.
On the other hand, when my son and I saw the preview on TV a few days before the screening, he asked, “How scary can this be, it’s only PG-13?” During the question and answer session, audience members also raised the rating issue.
Producer Macy laughed and said, “Hey, 13- to 16-year-olds deserve to be scared, too.” But the team did admit that this was a marketing decision. Director Title recounted some of the challenges in getting to this rating. “We didn’t even get through the first scene before the MPAA was telling us it was R,” she said. “We had to re-shoot that.” Other issues were mostly handled by editing. In one sequence, one of the characters catches fire. That had to be shortened and made less graphic. They also admitted that there was less blood being splashed than you would have anticipated.
Macy kept saying, “Don’t worry, the R-rated stuff will be on the DVD edition.” I’m not sure if he was joking or not.
One negative brought up by audience members was a lack of background for the Bye Bye Man character. Writer, director, and producer all pled guilty, saying they made the decision to leave out some of the explanations for the sake of pacing. And, maybe, the details of the Bye Bye Man mythology could be the subject of a sequel. An audience member suggested a prequel. “That’s a good idea,” Macy said.
So, if you don’t have blood, gore and people burning alive, what are you left with? Acting. The acting in this film connects you to the characters and because you feel sympathetic to them, that is what makes their predicament scary.
Screenwriter Penner pointed out that there were no evil characters in the film, except for the Bye Bye Man, played by horror icon Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy). Everyone else was a victim of the distorted reality he created.
Title was asked by an audience member how they got Faye Dunaway in the cast. “She likes to work,” Title said. “She has a reputation that makes that difficult, but I enjoyed working with her. She considered every word in the script and she knew her lines and what could be done with them. Her character was key to the plot because she’s known about the Bye Bye Man for years, but has never known his name, so she hasn’t been infected by him.”
Title said that she was only able to work with Dunaway for one day, but that her presence was profound and intense.
Title also had praise for Carrie-Anne Moss. “She’s a goddess,” she said. Moss plays a detective investigating a death caused by the Bye Bye Man. A scene in which she interrogates the character played by Douglas Smith is another powerful, pivotal point.
“They had worked together before,” Title said, “and I think this helped create the chemistry. Also, they both preferred not to do multiple takes but to keep the cameras rolling. This helped maintain the tension.”
The Bye Bye Man is Tense
Tension is one of the key words that describes this filmic experience. The Bye Bye Man grabs you quickly and doesn’t let go till the very last second. This could become a cult classic, so see it now and let the tension begin. The trailer is linked below.