This review was originally published on News Cult in January 2017.

Starring: Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas, Lucien Laviscount, Doug Jones, Carrie-Anne Moss

Director: Stacy Title

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Nearly R-Level Gore and Scares, Plus a Few Bare Butts

Release Date: January 13, 2017

They say that true character comes through in a crisis, and The Bye Bye Man interprets that maxim to mean that its characters should be as boring as possible when introduced. But once the titular demon creature ramps up his tactics to maximum frights, everyone suddenly becomes at least halfway interesting. But the first act is a textbook example from the School of Banal Horror Set-Ups.

Three University of Wisconsin students – Elliott (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and best bud/third wheel John (Lucien Laviscount) – move into an off-campus house with some creepy old furniture together. They throw a housewarming party that is defined by bros calling each other “bro” and playing beer pong. Their distinct lack of any definable personalities persists, as creepy shadows start going bump in the night. In sum: I do not care what happens to these characters, and the blank slate of a villain does not entertain me.

Just as The Bye Bye Man is about to lose me completely, though, it finally shows its winning cinematic hand. Disorienting angles and warped set design bring you into the world of the title bogeyperson. The Bye Bye Man’s (Doug Jones) deadly tactic is a sort of mental virus spread by the utterance of his name. If you hear it, you are stuck in his grasp, suffering hallucinations that play on your most paranoid fears. The mind tricks are filled with several instances of sly humor, which is where the film most excels. The Bye Bye Man is more about the twisted laughs of manipulation than the soul-crushing weight of ominousness.

When I first heard of The Bye Bye Man, I though that its patently silly title would be a major liability. But it turns out to actually be its biggest strength. It is plainly ridiculous that anyone should be scared to say or hear something as goofily alliterative as “the Bye Bye Man.” And that is indeed how most of characters initially react, but that plays right into The B.B.M.’s trap. This flick is well worth seeing in a packed theater; every utterance of “the Bye Bye Man” is bound to simultaneously provoke genuine dread and exasperated laughs at its stupidity.

The Bye Bye Man is Recommended If You Like: The Final Destination series, the spider walk scene from The Exorcist, the original Evil DeadHalloween

Grade: 3 out of 5 Demon Dogs