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Schultz reviews: 'The Bye Bye Man,' 'I See You' and 'Wish Upon'

Schultz reviews: 'The Bye Bye Man,' 'I See You' and 'Wish Upon'

Carl Schultz

“The Bye Bye Man”   Distributed by STX Entertainment, 96 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released January 13, 2017:

No, he’s not married to “The Goodbye Girl.”

In “The Bye Bye Man,” a trio of college students move into a spooky old house in an off-campus neighborhood.  When creepy events begin to occur in their new home and strange objects begin to appear, the new roomies with the help of a psychic acquaintance deduce that the house is haunted by the titular entity, a malevolent and homicidal spirit who’s summoned and unleashed when his name is spoken.  You won’t need a psychic friend to help you deduce the rest.

Despite the use of various familiar conventions of the genre and a plot that bears an unsettling resemblance to 1992’s “Candyman,” “The Bye Bye Man’ through sympathetic characters, likable performances, and skillful filmmaking becomes a better-than-average little chiller.  The movie’s not great, but it’s miles above dozens of other horror pictures released every year that do very well at the box office.

Starring Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, and Cressida Bonas as the roommates, “The Bye Bye Man” also features performances by Jenna Kanell as the psychic friend and Carrie-Anne Moss as an ineffectual police detective.  Onetime Academy Award-winning actress Faye Dunaway has a small but showy part as the widow of a newspaper reporter who tangled with the title fiend during an earlier incarnation.

Based on the “The Bridge to Body Island” segment of Robert Damon Schneck’s supernatural horror novel “The President’s Vampire,” “The Bye Bye Man” was directed by Stacy Title from a screenplay by Jonathan Penner, a husband-and-wife team of filmmakers who also collaborated on a 1992 horror-based reframing of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” entitled “Let the Devil Wear Black.”  

Screenwriter Penner was a three-time contestant on the reality-based television show “Survivor,” and also plays a small peripheral role in the picture...as does fellow horror writer and director Leigh Whannell, a co-creator of 2004’s “Saw” and the filmmaker behind the recent “The Invisible Man.”  When the Bye Bye Man is finally revealed, he closely resembles actor William Sadler in his role as Death in 1991’s “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.”

Currently streaming on Netflix, “The Bye Bye Man” is rated PG-13 for sequences of terror and horror, violence, bloody images, and some language concerns.  The film was edited from a slightly more graphic R-rated version.  

“I See You”   Distributed by Saban Films, 96 Minutes, Rated R, Released December 06, 2019:

The “oh, come on” quotient is high indeed in “I See You,” a 2019 chiller from Saban Films that was barely released to movie theaters at the beginning of the 2019 Christmas season and is now streaming on Amazon Prime and a few pay-per-view sites.

In “I See You,” a police detective and his psychologist wife are estranged as a result of the wife’s recent infidelity, but still living together in their well-appointed home in an upscale neighborhood.  The troubled couple is further distressed when a series of unsolved abductions of young children from years ago seems to be resuming...and all clues point to their teenage son, who’s displaying aggressive tendencies as a result of his parents’ alienation.

After a promising beginning, this atmospheric little dud estranges the audience by going off in too many directions--the movie can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a domestic drama, a horror picture, or both.  Very well-photographed, with excellent production values, the movie nicely establishes the sense of tension between the policeman and his wife despite performances which never seem quite natural...although the actors seem to be trying as hard as they can to contribute their best efforts.  

But at about the halfway point, the filmmakers introduce a new element into the mystery, and then reprise the entire first half of the picture from another perspective.  When the narrative resumes, the plot becomes so preposterous, and the characters have become so unsympathetic, that the picture forfeits its logic...and the audience loses its interest.  During the final half hour, the movie’s aura of suspense does battle with a competing sense of silliness...and the silliness wins.  Worse, the picture’s scare ratio hovers at around zero.

Written by Devon Graye and directed in his feature filmmaking debut by Adam Randall, “I See You” loses most of its credibility during the scene in which the estranged couple buries the corpse of a recent victim in the nearby woods as means of covering their son’s tracks.  Hey, at least they’re enjoying social activities together again.

Starring one-time Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt as the errant psychologist wife, “I See You” features performances from John Tenney as her cuckolded police detective husband, Judah Lewis as their son, and Owen Teague and Libe Barer as a pair of trollish teenage home invaders who define the movie’s title.  Teague has a nifty career going with roles in quality pictures like 2018’s charming “Every Day,” and 2017’s “It” and its 2019 sequel, and shouldn’t be appearing in junk like this.  Helen Hunt’s cosmetic enhancements are also a distraction...before she disappears almost entirely from the picture’s final act.  

Filmed in Cleveland, Chagrin Falls, and Lakewood, Ohio in June 2017, “I See You” premiered last March at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas and was released briefly to theaters in early December, but was barely promoted or circulated by Saban Films.  Despite encouraging critical reviews, the film ended its theatrical run with only $77,668 in box office receipts against a bare-bones budget of $5 million.

Streaming on Amazon Prime, “I See You” is also available for a fee on YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu.  The picture is rated R for violence and language concerns.

“Wish Upon”  Distributed by Orion Pictures, 90 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released July 14, 2017:

Probably we’ve all known someone like Clare Shannon at one time or another--a girl whose personality is bigger than her confidence.

Not the prettiest, the smartest, or the most popular girl in school, and possibly even quite shy, Clare (Joey King) compensates for her insecurities by trying harder than anyone else to fit in, and develops an oversized personality as a result—broad gestures, animated facial expressions, swooping vocal tones, sometimes even singing a phrase or two of a conversation as if trying to persuade herself the tragedy of her life is actually a musical comedy.

As the main character in the new horror picture “Wish Upon,” Clare Shannon is also something of a born loser—once a golden child with a charmed life...until the preschool age when she accidentally happened to witness the suicide of her mother.  Since that time, life’s been different.  To say Clare’s  ordeal as a high school student is difficult is a triumph of understatement.

Despite her best efforts, everything in Clare’s life goes wrong.  Persecuted, ostracized, and bullied at school by the more popular and entitled kids, even her best attempts at fitting in or displaying school spirit are rejected, sabotaged, and mocked  And although she’s the kind of girl who tries to perceive a silver lining around every dark cloud, eventually every silver lining in Clare’s life develops another dark cloud behind it.

Clare’s dad (Ryan Phillippe!), evidently too distracted to keep reliable hours or summon the self-discipline to maintain a job, has taken to dumpster-diving to earn expense money—collecting salvageable junk from other peoples’ trash for resale or recycling.  In one cringe-worthy scene dad rummages through the dumpster outside Clare’s school, an image lost on neither Clare nor her classmates—photos containing rude captions appear almost instantly on social media.

But one day dad recovers from a dumpster an unusual object—an ornate octagonal tumbler-locked case inscribed with Chinese lettering.  Dad has the rare clarity of mind to clean up the strange box, and brings it home as a gift for his daughter.

Clare, who coincidentally is studying the Chinese language in school, is able to translate enough of the ancient characters on the case to decipher precisely one phrase—“Seven wishes.”  And in a combination of desperation, despair, frustration, hurt, anger, and hope, Clare that night closes her eyes and idly wishes her main antagonist at school “would just rot.”

The next morning, Clare learns to her astonishment that the school bully has somehow mysteriously been stricken, literally overnight, with Epidermolysis Bullosa—an aggressive, flesh-wasting disease with no known cure.  But that evening, Clare’s beloved pet dog is discovered dead.

It gets worse—Clare whimsically in the presence of the Chinese lockbox wishes that the most popular boy in school will fall madly in love with her.  And he does…with the operative word being “madly”--the boy begins to act in an irrational manner, and eventually even begins to stalk the hapless girl.  Plainly Clare’s personal genie either possesses a mordant sense of humor or has studied contract law with an eye toward loopholes and liabilities.  And that’s just the beginning of Clare’s problems.

Alert viewers will quickly perceive in “Wish Upon” a combination of author W.W. Jacobs’ famous 1902 short story “The Monkey’s Paw” and TV’s classic “The Twilight Zone” mixed with a generous helping of Stephen King’s novel “Carrie.”  In other words, the movie’s a morality fable wrapped inside a horror picture, a warning to be careful what we wish for.

Written by Barbara Marshall and directed by “Annabelle” filmmaker John R. Leonetti, “Wish Upon” develops with laughable punctuality a trend of introducing peripheral characters who have no plot function except to die.  Eventually the audience can predict which secondary characters will be around for only a moment or so before being dispatched in mostly unimaginative ways…although there’s a nifty scene in which a character is shown cooking a meal while virtually oblivious to the lethal devices contained in every kitchen.

But the bright spot in “Wish Upon” is the empathetic performance of young Joey King in the central role as Clare.  A seasoned showbiz pro at age 18, young King had at the time of “Wish Upon” already had contributed noteworthy turns as Ramona in 2010’s delightful “Ramona and Beezus” and as the granddaughter in 2017’s  “Going in Style,” in which she held her own against movie legends (and veteran scene stealers) Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, and Ann-Margret.  King was also the shaven-headed child who managed to escape from the remote desert prison in the 2012 megahit “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Now 20, Joey King seems to have found the means for a successful transition from child phenomenon to successful grownup actress.  Discerning audiences are beginning to realize that any picture containing a performance from King has at least one reason to buy a ticket.  And in the 2019 Hulu miniseries “The Act,” King also finally attracted the attention of the critics...and earned Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominations for her difficult performance as the real-life Gypsy Rose Blanchard, forced by her mother to fabricate disabilities for financial gain.

“Wish Upon” was distributed by a resurrected incarnation of the old Orion Pictures company, which despite releasing such Oscar-winning blockbusters as “Dances With Wolves” and “The Silence of the Lambs” somehow managed to go financially kaput in 1999.  

In fact, Orion Pictures was built from Filmways Studios, a television production company which expanded into motion pictures through a 1977 merger with none other than the old American-International Pictures corporation.  In this way, there’s a direct historical link between “Wish Upon” and the legendary drive-in classics of the 1950s.

“Wish Upon” is rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images, thematic elements, and language concerns.  The picture is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu.

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