The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
New Zealand was stunned in 1952 by a brutal murder carried out by two girls, ages 15 and 16, who crushed the skull of one of their mothers with a rock. It was whispered at the time that the girls had a lesbian relationship; but since almost everyone involved, including the girls, knew very little about what that might entail, the subject was suppressed. Tried and sentenced, the girls served five years in prison before being paroled on the condition that they never see each other again.
Their story, based on facts but interpreted with a great deal of freedom, is the inspiration for "Heavenly Creatures," a new film by Peter Jackson. The film would be remarkable anyway, but it comes with a footnote attached: One of the girls, Juliet Hulme, has recently been identified as Anne Perry, the best-selling British crime novelist. Watching her on the "Today" program, talking forthrightly about the events of 40 years ago, I got the impression of a sensible, thoughtful woman for whom the murder is as much an enigma as for everyone else.
The movie shows the crime as resulting from a tragic confluence of coincidences: Two girls, both emotionally unstable in just the right way to complement each other's weaknesses, are outsiders in a Christchurch girls' school. They become fast friends, bound by a fascination for the macabre. Simple, stolid Pauline is dazzled by Juliet, who thinks nothing of correcting the French teacher. But Pauline has status in Juliet's eyes, too, not least because of a scar on her leg, after an operation for bone disease: "All the best people have had chest and bone disease! It's all frightfully romantic!" Almost everything is frightfully romantic in the lives of these girls, who become inseparable, sharing crushes on the tenor Mario Lanza and such movie stars as Orson Welles. They become intoxicated by their friendship, rushing headlong everywhere, with squeals and giggles, giddy with delight at the private world they are creating. Their parents are out of the loop - especially Juliet's mother, a psychologist who is much more concerned with proving her own fading sexuality than with communicating with her daughter.
The girls are separated when one contracts tuberculosis.