Directed by Stacy Title
Gadzooks! Where to even begin? I’m so torn on this hokey hodgepodge of horror ideas. It’s like a tale of two movies. The first half is an annoying retread of damn near every horror movie cliché of the past five or so years, complete with all the prerequisite cheap jump scares masquerading as actual suspense. Then there’s the second half, where it actually starts to go someplace interesting, only to completely derail into silliness during the overwrought/poorly thought-out third act.
At times I was bored. At times I was rolling my eyes. At times I was intrigued. At times I was laughing unintentionally. The one thing I never was: scared.
If reports I’ve read are correct, The Bye Bye Man has been delayed for some time, during which it was trimmed down from an R to a PG-13. It did feel like the movie was tripping over itself to avoid getting gory in scenes that sure seemed like they were intended to be gruesome (bloodless point blank range shotgun blasts), and early on there’s indication that something creepy happened during a sex scene that was not included in the final cut. Trimming this down to PG-13 actually makes sense since I have a hard time imagining too many people over the age of 13 being scared by any of this hokum.
Who or what the Bye Bye Man is, his origins, the significance of the train, his coins, or the big skinless dog that accompanies him: all of it is practically irrelevant to the plot. The Bye Bye Man is merely a boogeyman with a series of gimmicks in desperate need of a purpose. Once you’ve said “Bye Bye Man,” he gets in your head; and anyone who hears, says, or writes down the name becomes a potential victim that he begins screwing with via a series of hallucinations, lost time, and loud noise jump scares. Muttering “don’t say it, don’t think it” is a technique to ward him off that proves not particularly effective since that, too, is more gimmick than purposeful. You would think his ultimate goal would be to trick or terrorize his intendeds in order to spread his name like a supernatural virus to as many people as possible; that doesn’t appear to enter his head until the very end.
Even when Bye Bye Man does make his physical presence known, looking like the cloaked lovechild of Mason Verger and Voldemort, he actually doesn’t do much of anything other than stand there menacingly pointing or wagging – yes, wagging – his bony finger at you. As if the movie was Bye Bye Man competing on a TV game show called “America’s Next Top Boogeyman,” I kept waiting for top judge Bagul to go all Simon Cowell for stealing his shtick as this week’s special guest judge The Babadook furiously mashes the X button out of existence.
Given how he comes into being, it’s entirely possible Bye Bye Man might be related to The Grither from that holiday-themed episode of “Tales from the Darkside.” If you see this movie and have seen that episode, then you’ll know exactly what I’m getting at.
Things open up promisingly enough in 1969 as an average Joe runs around a neighborhood with a shotgun demanding to know who has told the name Bye Bye Man to someone else before killing them to prevent the evil from further spreading. There will be more flashbacks to this event later on. Given how much more effectively staged and performed this backstory is to the modern stuff built around the stereotypical assortment of photogenic millennials contending with the usual boogedy boogedy tropes, I would have preferred it if the entire film had been about the 1969 events. Then again, a horror movie about a writer experiencing lethal supernatural madness brought about by a sinister figure while investigating a true crime case already exists. I don’t have to tell you it was called Sinister. Told you Bagul would be upset with Bye Bye Man stealing his shtick.
College student Elliot (Douglas Smith, Dane DeHaan-ing the shit out of his performance) has just moved into an off-campus house with the love of his life, Sasha (Cressida Bonas, whose every line sounds like she’s zonked out on cold medicine, fitting since she may be the first horror movie victim in history whose primary affliction is evil has given her a bad cold – not joking), and his best friend, John (Lucien Laviscount, who I suspect has a heck of a career ahead of him whenever producers want but cannot get Michael B. Jordan). Sasha and John appear a little too chummy, leading to Elliot’s increasingly homicidal state as he suffers jealous delusions brought on by “He Who Cannot Be Named” and his faithful demon dog companion, “Cenobite Beethoven.”
In all seriousness, I loved the idea of a supernatural psycho with a paranormal pet. I wanted less Bye Bye Man and more of his hound of hell eating the bodies of his victims. I want that dog to have its own spin-off movie, and I want the title of that movie to be Beethoven’s 666th.
Immediately, like within mere moments of moving into this house, they experience creepy noises, doors that thunderously slam on their own, and other assorted clichés you’ve seen a million times before. They discover an old nightstand with “Bye Bye Man” scribbled in it, and that’s when their luck really begins to run out. Luckily, they have a friend who claims to be psychic, so, you guessed it – they decide to hold a séance. Now the Sinister meets The Ring meets Final Destination meets The Shining meets A Nightmare on Elm Street meets Insert Supernatural Horror Movie Title Here and You’d Probably Be Right kicks into full swing as characters go mental/commit murders/get killed because of how Bye Bye Man messes with their minds. You can pretty much guess where this one is headed fairly early on and not just because you’ve seen all those other horror movies I listed.
Carrie-Ann Moss doesn’t make her presence known until nearly the hour mark in the totally thankless role of the cop grilling Elliot after she suspects he’s behind the deaths. Her character should have been named “Detective Thankless.”
Then it’s Faye Dunaway’s turn to cash a check with her cameo as the wife of the 1969 reporter/killer Elliot seeks out for further flashbacks. Something happens to her towards the end of their scene that’s meant to be horrific but was actually so inexplicable and cheesy it made me laugh out loud. That pretty much set the tone for the remainder of the film.
We are talking about a movie where Elliot realizes he has to erase anything pertaining to the Bye Bye Man’s name, and that means doing away with that nightstand. Obviously, he destroys it, right? Wrong! He simply carries it out of the house and chucks it into the woods out back. He doesn’t burn it or chop it up or anything else that would actually make it impossible to ever open the drawer and see what’s written.
That’s a perfect example of so many aspects of The Bye Bye Man that are off-kilter. Like you can tell everyone in front of and behind the camera are trying really hard to make it work, almost succeeding if not for performances, writing, and directing being just wonky enough to make it not work the way they intended while still being somewhat entertaining in a schlocky b-movie sort of way. I hate that I even have to assign a star rating to this because how does one score “this movie sucks, but there’s stuff I enjoyed yet at the same time I didn’t, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.”
We are talking about a movie where during what is supposed to be a moment of high terror, the Bye Bye Man pokes a guy’s forehead with his finger, and they cut to a doorbell ringing.
The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life
Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson
Written by David Freyne
Directed by David Freyne
Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the Zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.
Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the Zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.
The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try and restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.
Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers that be.
Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.
Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.
The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.
The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.
Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed
Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim
Directed by Brian Coyne
Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.
Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.
So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.
I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.
Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone
Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters
Directed by Jeff Houkal
Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?
Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.
As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).
Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”
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