The title of The Bye Bye Man could be read as a challenge its filmmakers gave themselves. With such an unscary-sounding movie, their reasoning might have gone, they’d have to try extra hard. And though they don’t entirely succeed, director Stacy Title (The Last Supper) and writer Jonathan Prenner at least clear that hurdle. By the end of the movie, the name “Bye Bye Man” has taken on dreadful implications, prompting tension whenever any character says it aloud. The film probably could have gone with an even sillier name and gotten the same results.
That’s partly due to some creepy filmmaking, especially in the film’s early scenes, and partly because making the silly name sound scary is baked into the premise. Inspired by a chapter in Robert Damon Schenck’s collection of strange-but-true (well, “true”) stories The President’s Vampire, The Bye Bye Man attempts to spin a feature-length tale out of the stuff of compact urban legends. The film opens in Madison, Wisconsin in 1969 where the unassuming-looking Larry (Leigh Whannel, no stranger to horror movies) has begun embarking on a suburban killing spree, demanding his victims reveal if they said “his name” to anyone and killing everyone who says yes. The name, we’ll soon learn, is that of the Bye Bye Man, a demonic spirit who kills everyone who says his name. (Whether or not that’s because he’s embarrassed of it remains unclear.)
Flash forward to the present where three college students — Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and his lifelong pal John (Lucien Laviscount) — decide to rent a creepy old run down house on the outskirts of town. What could possible go wrong? For once, however, it’s not the house that’s the problem. When Elliot happens on a nightstand he finds the words “Don’t think it, don’t say it” written over and over in a drawer. And beneath that writing, the “it” in question: the name of the Bye Bye Man. And so it begins.