Susan Granger’s review of “The Bye Bye Man” (STX Entertainment)
“Don’t think it! Don’t say it.”
That’s the cautionary phrase that propels this horror-thriller, based on an urban legend.
In the prologue, deranged journalist Larry Redman (Leigh Whannel) grabs his shotgun and goes on a shooting rampage, killing eight neighbors along with himself. That was in 1969.
Cut to the present, as three University of Wisconsin students – nerdy Elliot (Douglas Smith), his sexy girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and a jock named John (Lucien Laviscount) – rent a large, if decrepit house in rural Madison so they can live off-campus.
Then Eliot makes a discovery. There are mysterious inscriptions inside his bedside table, a repeated warning that reads: “Don’t think it. Don’t say it.” And the scrawled words, “Bye Bye Man.”
No one seems to know what that means, but, at a housewarming party, Sasha’s psychic friend Kim (Jenna Karnell) conducts a séance which reveals a malevolent, supernatural presence.
“Something is coming,” she says, and Elliot connects that to “The Bye Bye Man” mantra as his paranoia grows.
Sure enough, Elliot soon glimpses a ghastly ghostly, hooded figure (Doug Jones of “Pan’s Labyrinth”), as lethal hallucinations and more sinister questions arise.
Adapting from Robert Damon Schneck’s 2005 short story, “The Bridge to Body Island,” screenwriter Jonathan Penner and his wife, director Stacy Title, go with the evil boogeyman curse concept, rather than developing an intriguing backstory to explain it.
Instead, Title (“The Last Supper,” “Let the Devil War Black”) relies on predictable jump-scares and not-so-subtle misdirection to sustain the tension which culminates, not surprisingly, in grim ambiguity.
While the three primary characters are stereotypical, familiar faces surface as Faith Dunaway appears as Larry Redmon’s aged widow and Carrie-Ann Moss circles as a suspicious police detective.
FYI: Australian actor/writer Leigh Whannel created the “Saw” franchise with James Wan; and actress Cressida Bonas once had a romantic fling with Britain’s Prince Harry.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Bye Bye Man” is a tiresome, tepid 3. Don’t watch it.