Here’s a funny little image for you. It’s the cover to Æslet (also known as Donkey Xote), a direct-to-video retelling of Don Quixote for kids.
Look at the lede at the top: “From the producers who saw Shrek.” Between that and the very deliberately familiar design of the donkey on the front, the sheer audacity of these producers is incredible. “From the producers who saw Shrek.” It’s hilarious.
Now, here’s a movie trailer for you. It’s for The Bye Bye Man, which will open in theaters early next year.
“From the producer of Oculus and The Strangers,” reads the trailer. “Don’t think it. Don’t say it,” goes its tagline. Well, here’s what I’m thinking: this movie should say “from the producers who saw every other horror movie from the last two years.”
Every single beat of this trailer is something I’ve seen before. The chicken-scratch drawing at the beginning reminds me of the Sinister posters and one of the best scenes from Insidious a little too well. The Bye Bye Man hiding amongst trees and shadows in photographs is virtually identical to the way Slenderman lurks unseen in its native creepypasta stories, the Marble Hornets series, and popular video game adaptations. And the film even starts with a bunch of wide-eyed college-aged co-eds getting a fresh start in big, empty, creepy-looking house? It’s like putting the most predictable protagonists of a slasher film in the most predictable plot of a ghost story. “Should we do it?” asks our unremarkable male protagonist as he kisses his giggly girlfriend. No, don’t do it. Whatever this movie is doing, I don’t want it to.
Our bland protagonists go to bed and the lights flicker the same way we’ve seen them do in The Conjuring and the Bye Bye Man shows up in the dark like he’s in Lights Out and then lunges forward like The Babadook, right down to the black cloak. Except it’s not a cloak, as far as I can tell it’s just a guy in a hoodie. The protagonists panic and when the light’s back on, the Bye Bye Man has disappeared. Wow! Can’t wait for another movie that lazily spends its full first half making its characters wonder what is and isn’t real while we as an audience damn well know the answer already.
The trailer then cuts to the protagonists holding hands at a table, and then one of them screams as if suddenly hit by a horrible vision; they’re already robbing The Conjuring blind so I don’t know why I’m surprised that they’d literally just plagiarize the opening of The Conjuring 2. Mr. Unremarkable from before finds some old junk with “The Bye Bye Man” etched in behind it, and while we’ve had mystery-solving antiques in more haunted houses than anyone can count, this particular instance reeks once more of Sinister, if children were more into woodcutting than drawing. We even get spooky hallucinations in case you forgot this movie was from a producer of Oculus, and one of those hallucinations leads to a very Final Destination-esque cut of someone running into a train.
And the Bye Bye Man himself? The way he’s summoned through speech or thought (“Don’t say it, don’t think it”) brings to mind Candyman or even Nightmare on Elm Street (where fear is the force that keeps bringing Freddy back to roost). The viral nature of his reminds me of The Ring, or Cell, or even a less creative Pontypool (which, if you haven’t seen it, you should go see right now). He doesn’t even look that interesting. Like I said, he looks like a guy in a hoodie. It Follows made familiarity horrifying with its shape-shifting, but ordinary-looking monster, but The Bye Bye Man looks like nothing but a waste of Doug Jones’ talent. In short, literally everything about The Bye Bye Man and its titular spook is excruciatingly derivative.
And that’s the worst part – this movie is compiling all of the tropes and clichés that have gotten extremely popular in recent years into one story, and they’re playing it completely straight? I’m not dissecting the trailer and calling out its theft scene-by-scene just for fun. I think that the people making The Bye Bye Man have brazenly, lazily, and tragically missed an absolutely golden opportunity to make the best horror parody since Scream. While Wes Craven’s self-aware classic tackled slashers, The Bye Bye Man seems perfectly poised to viciously lampoon the 2010s’ excess of supernatural stalkers, possessions, and dark fairy tales. The title is so cheesy that it’s a joke in and of itself, but no, the film actually expects us to take a ghoul called “The Bye Bye Man” seriously. It’s not hard to imagine a room of disgruntled producers racking their brains for something as catchy as the Babadook, desperate to mooch on its nursery rhyme tone – “The Goodbye Guy? The Farewell Fiend? Sayonara Sam? Dammit!”
The Bye Bye Man is screaming to be a parody. It has to be, because you can’t align all of these cliches in a row with a straight face. But that’s exactly what they’re doing, and as a result it’s going to be one the most generic, forgettable, and unimaginative horror movies in recent memory. It’s directed by Stacy Title, whose most notable prior credits are Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror and the politically charged black comedy The Last Supper, and she last worked with The Bye Bye Man’s writer John Penner on the 1999 Hamlet adaptation Let The Devil Wear Black. If this film could have capitalized on the ghost horror craze like Scream did to slashers, then even if it wasn’t that good, it at least would have let her first film in nine years stand out from the crowd – even the timing is perfect for a parodic approach! The Bye Bye Man is coming out January 2017, which means it’ll be the first big horror film of the new year. 2016 was a fantastic year for horror with regards to both quality and volume, and we’ve arguably been riding that wave since 2013 or ’14, so you couldn’t ask for a better time to poke fun at all of that. And if that’s what they were doing, I’d be the first in line for tickets, because it seems like this wave has gone on long enough without a quality parody to encapsulate it all. Zombie movies dominated the 2000s, for example – where’s our Shawn of the Dead for the 2010s horror wave? And don’t you dare tell me that it’s Scary Movie 5. The Bye Bye Man could have been the parody we deserve but it looks like a waste of all the momentum horror gathered this year that’ll get immediately lost in our abundance of flicks about spooky entities. The Bye Bye Man will go bye-bye from audiences’ memories the second it leaves theaters.
Of course, I could be entirely wrong. That’s the thing with judging trailers too harshly, in this movie climate in particular we can barely trust trailers anymore. Maybe The Bye Bye Man will start 2017 off with a bang, one-upping all of its 2010s influences to do it better than ever before. Maybe. And if that’s what happens, I assure you that I’ll eat my words. But my cynical position right now is that the team behind The Bye Bye Man is playing a shameless game of Mad Libs with every trope and cliché from the last six years of horror, preying on the popularity of its inspirations with no less transparency than “the producers who saw Shrek.”
We’ll just have to wait until January to see if I’m wrong.