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.
Attention all God-fearing victims of domestic abuse—have the Kendrick brothers got a film for you. They’re the moviemaking duo (Alex Kendrick directs and co-wrote this film with brother Stephen) whose Christian-themed pictures “Fireproof” and “Courageous” made a splash with church-going audiences long before last year’s swath of faith-based indies were put into production. Now the Kendricks have returned, raking up surprising sums at the box office with their latest wide release, “War Room.” It may not be as brazenly offensive as “God’s Not Dead” or as spectacularly inept as “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas,” but it’s still awful, offering all the forced humor and superficial substance of a half-baked homily.
Spirituality can be a beautiful thing to explore in cinema, but “War Room” has no interest in engaging its audience on a personal level. It has one single goal, which according to the Kendricks, is the only goal worth having. The film wants to evangelize by preaching an ideology that requires its followers to view the world in black-and-white terms. Grappling with the gray areas in life is seen as a sign of weakness, while acting in one’s own best interest is nothing more than a sinful exercise in selfish pride.
This is the lesson that real estate agent Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer) must be taught in extended conversations with her client-turned-friend, Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie). When Elizabeth tries opening up about the unabashed cruelty she endures on a daily basis from her loathsome husband, Tony (T.C. Stallings), Clara refuses to listen. Instead, she urges the long-suffering wife to go back home, empty out a closet and plaster the walls with Bible verses. There, she will summon God to help fight her battles, thus transforming the space into the titular “war room.” Her role as a submissive woman is to treat the man in her life with grace, which will eventually shame him into becoming a good person. God forbid she even considers a divorce.
The film’s centerpiece sequence occurs early on, as Elizabeth sits weeping in her closet while pleading, “God, help him love me again.” This moment is heartbreaking for all the wrong reasons. Since the Kendricks have mistaken one-dimensional caricatures for people who exist in the real world, they forgot to provide Tony with any redeeming qualities that would make us want to root for his marriage. As for the film’s advice to women who are beaten by their husbands, one of Elizabeth’s co-workers advises, “Learn to duck so God can hit him.”