It’s where some people keep their keys, money, or a good book, but the nightstand drawer in director Stacy Title’s The Bye Bye Man holds something far more sinister than spare change. When spoken aloud, what’s carved into its wooden surface has the ability to scare your soul and scar your psyche, so it’s a shame that the film featuring this frightening piece of furniture—and the entity it unleashes—doesn’t live up to its promising potential.

Seeking a home of their own after surviving the dorms at their Wisconsin university, lifelong best friends Elliot (Douglas Smith) and John (Lucien Laviscount) move into an old house that’s farther away from campus, but much closer to future horrors. Joining them in their eerie abode is Elliot’s girlfriend, Sasha (Cressida Bonas), giving their living situation a Three’s Company vibe. One night, Elliot discovers “The Bye Bye Man” inscribed in the drawer of their nightstand—a piece of furniture they found squirreled away in the basement. By reading the name aloud, Elliot unknowingly drags himself and his friends into a web of dangerous deceptions brought forth by The Bye Bye Man, a hooded figure with a monstrous hound at his heels and dark intentions at heart.

At this point in the story, things get very interesting… and very frustrating. Once The Bye Bye Man’s name has entered the thoughts of Elliot and his friends, his true potential to scare both the characters on screen and the audience watching them is teased, but never fully realized. The Bye Bye Man is a grand illusionist. He manipulates reality to trick people into seeing things that aren’t really there, whether it’s maggots wriggling in someone’s hair or a family crying for help on the train tracks. Being under his curse is like being on a hallucinatory drug, and just like bath salts, The Bye Bye Man can propel ordinary people to commit violent acts.

Unfortunately, the overall film doesn’t come close to capturing the full power of its villain. Instead of immersing its characters in haunting set pieces or genuinely disturbing situations, the film settles for cheap jump scares brought to life by even cheaper-looking CG effects that feel thrown in as afterthoughts. Palpable practical effects could have made these moments more shocking and real—especially one scene involving Carrie-Anne Moss’ criminally underused Detective Shaw—but even with the great Robert Kurtzman on board as a special makeup effects producer, the story fails to capture any real sense of fear through its visuals.

And while the actual Bye Bye Man certainly looks creepy—you definitely wouldn’t want him to read your child a bedtime story—fans of the The Strain will notice a striking similarity between this film’s antagonist and the strigoi that roam the streets of Manhattan on the FX series. The strigoi on The Strain are pretty damn terrifying, so it’s not a bad creature to be compared to, but the similarities are distracting enough to make you expect Corey Stoll and his merry band of slayers to knock down the door spraying silver from their customized nail guns. The Bye Bye Man could have haunted horror fans with a truly unique appearance, but he instead fails to stand out from the pack.

Vampire comparison aside, the prolific Doug Jones does a great job playing The Bye Bye Man in the few moments when he gets enough screen time to shine. With menacing movements and a wonderful sense of restraint (only offset by the distracting presence of a very CG dog that serves as The Bye Bye Man’s hellish hound), Jones steals the show in a slightly redemptive third act that finally takes advantage of the film’s dark story.

Instead of forced jump scares, the final scenes really embrace the horrors of a warped reality and use character development to bring about genuine fear. The third act also sees Douglas Smith go “Heather Langenkamp” on The Bye Bye Man in moments reminiscent of Nancy’s showdown with Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it’s all too little too late to save the film from its lackluster buildup.

Diehard urban legend fans might find enough to enjoy here to justify a Friday night rental in the future, but The Bye Bye Man doesn’t make enough of an impact on the big screen to get 2017 off to a scary start at the movies.

Movie Score: 2/5

  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.