The Empty Man
The Empty Man (2020) movie review
Based on the graphic novel series from Cullen Bunn by Boom! Studios, The Empty Man is a horror film from writer/director David Prior. The film follows a man who is tasked with finding a missing girl. However he eventually begins to realize that the disappearance is connected to a ritual connected with a strange entity known as… The Empty Man.
We just saw the film for its Thursday night preview, and I know two things: The first is that I will probably wake up to find the film was lambasted by critics. The second is that I don’t know how well I will sleep tonight, because I thought Empty Man was a HUGE surprise! Sure it helps that the trailer just came out rather recently. Plus it’s not a good trailer. Or maybe the trailer is exactly what it wants to be, and there is simply much more to this movie than meets the eye…
The Empty Man starts out on the right foot, with an opening that would put most horror prologues to shame. The film sets the quality, tone, lore, and even stakes all wonderfully right off the bat before throwing you into the descent into terror that is The Empty Man. And what a descent it is! Empty Man flexes its mystery muscles at every change it gets, baiting you into a Ringu (1998) knockoff before revealing something much different underneath.
As strong as the plot of the film is, I did notice lots of borrowing going on. Now I don’t know how much of this falls on the writer of the novel or the writer of the film- but you know what it kinda works! Sure the story takes you through several beats from other horror films, but gosh it’s scary! The Empty Man does lack in the jumpscare department, but that didn’t make me any less tense. I spent an embarrassing chunk of the film clenching my fists in suspense, with one sequence getting to me so effectively that I may not get much sleep tonight.
James Badge Dale (or American Chris Hemsworth as Rachel calls him) was a pitch-perfect choice for the lead. Not only was his character a very compelling one, but Dale’s performance was refreshingly smart and even a little sarcastic. There’s a scene in the film where someone gives him a creepy smile, and instead of making a nervous face, he sarcastically smiles back and walks away. I love it! The supporting cast all does a great job as well, with generally smart characters filling out a very important check mark on this film’s originality hitlist.
Honestly though, it is a little confusing. The lore is often a bit to swallow, and boy does this move know it! But hey if I give thought-provoking but nonsensical sci-fi movies a pass, I should probably trust my gut here too. Anyway, this does lead to an unavoidably messy finale that devolves into a bit too much flashing-lights set to quick-cut editing for me. The rest of the film is so competently shot that I was a little disappointed when things truly started happening.
Still, The Empty Man really stuck with me! Whether it was Christopher Young’s pitch perfect score of the captivating use of framing or the homages to more modern horror classics; Empty Man almost shouldn’t work, but it does! It takes what seems like a typical story, tosses in a delicious blend of strong horror staples, and throws it at the screen hoping it sticks. And thanks to killer setup and payoff, as well as some genuine terror, it works! Look, there will be plenty of people who will dissect this film and verbally obliterate it, but I think the whole is MUCH more than the sum of its parts here. It is a slow-burn horror train heading for mind-bending station, and I kinda loved it! 8/10.
Okay okay, I didn’t want to slap the cheesy Halloween thing on this film. I don’t know, I wanted to take this review a little more seriously. But hey, Empty Man would be a pretty solid watch for Halloween! First off it’s scary, so that’s a plus. You have a titular antagonist to an extent, so there’s potential for some iconic imagery there. Film lovers will no doubt see this as a chance to watch the best of many of their favorite horror films all at once! I mean you’ve got bits of everything from Candyman (1992) and The Thing (1982) to Hereditary (2018), It Follows (2014), and The Witch (2016)! Granted most of its inspirations are probably better than it… But hey, it’s playing THIS Halloween, so I’d give it at least 3 out of 5 Scary Pumpkins!
So The Empty Man? Did you see it? Dare I ask what you think? And what is your favorite horror movie that subverted your expectations the most? Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And if you liked this review and you want to read more, be sure to let us know what you’d like us to review next!
-review by Ryan Prince