The Empty Man (2020

Wait a minute; something weird is going on here. I’m very much familiar with renting a movie hoping it will be great only for it to be clearly NOT great but it’s very rare that I rent a movie hoping it will be dopey and it ends up being pretty damn awesome. Turns out, THE EMPTY MAN is far from the empty-headed, millionth, teens vs. creepy pasta demon its (should-have-been-changed) title suggests. This movie is a chilling and intelligent mind-screw with too many layers to count in one sitting and a delightfully maddening aftertaste. It shouldn’t be clumped in with the BYE BYE and SLENDER men of the world; it’s more in line with brain-twisters like JACOB’s LADDER and neo-noir journeys to hell like ANGEL HEART (BLADE RUNNER, PRINCE OF DARKNESS and A CURE FOR WELLNESS also popped into my head). Mostly though, this is epic cosmic horror that can’t be easily explained or contained. It’s crazy good or at least, totally my bag. Thank God I had rented every other movie at Redbox and finally gave it a chance.

After an extended unsettling prologue that eradicates any question of the film’s quality, we meet grieving former detective James Lasombra (a convincingly pestered James Badge Dale) who has been asked by a friend to find her missing daughter. What briefly starts out as a possible supernatural investigation reminiscent of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (that’s a compliment) miraculously and consistently expands to involve cults, conspiracies, occult rituals, Tulpa theories, nightmarish hallucinations and an incredibly impressive amount of mythology and world building. I’m going to say I won’t say more so as to not ruin things but the truth of the matter is that I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I don’t feel bad though, THE EMPTY MAN is built in such a way as to almost demand multiple viewings and interpretations. There’s so much going on its like watching five movies at once.

THE EMPTY MAN is based on a graphic novel by Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey that I’m not familiar with so I can’t say how loyal this adaption is but I’m curious to find out (note to self: put it on hold from library). I can tell you though that director, writer, editor David Prior astounds with his attention to detail and he’s rather a maestro at creating lingering visuals and a sense of paranoid dread (his resume is packed with work directing DVD extras for David Fincher films and that puzzle piece fits snugly). As implied above, I’m definitely going to have to revisit this monster of a movie to decipher its possibly infinite assertions but suffice to say this is satisfying cinema that makes you feel as if you’ve just finished a great meal or book. As much as I enjoyed it, I can’t shake the feeling I’m only viewing the tip of the vexing, hypnotic, colossal iceberg.

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bdwilcox
bdwilcox
6 months ago

I have to be honest: I would have never, ever, never, never, ever, ever, never rented or even watched this after seeing the trailer. As if Slenderman wasn’t bad enough, this looks like a bad rip-off of it, so no. “If you go over a bridge, you blow into a bottle and think about The Empty M…” (click). Thanks for taking one for the team and subsequently finding a diamond in the rough.

raphaeladidas
raphaeladidas
6 months ago

This was the most unexpected and best surprise in movies for 2020 as far as I’m concerned.

I have no idea why I watched this: I hadn’t seen the trailer, I’d read no reviews, I don’t remember anyone recommending it to me. I’d read the comic, but didn’t connect it to the movie until after I watched it and looked it up online (the comic is PRETTY DIFFERENT and unmemorable; I preferred the movie).

And I swear I’ve thought about it every week in the three months since I watched it.

Last edited 6 months ago by raphaeladidas
Dr Nick Riviera
Dr Nick Riviera
6 months ago

Here’s what I don’t understand: Someone director like David Robert Mitchell makes UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (a film that shares a few of this film’s ideas, I think) and, at 139 minutes, people are OK with it. Or a Korean film like THE WAILING (weighing it at 150 minutes) comes out and audiences are fine with it because, you know, it’s foreign. But a, frankly, excellent film like THE EMPTY MAN comes out (at a little more than 2 hours) and all the general public can say about it is “can you believe how long this thing is?”. Well, maybe this film just worked it’s magic much more on me that it has with said general public because I found it a rewarding experience and just the right length – in fact, I’d give it another 5-10 minutes if I could have things spelled out a bit more (despite liking the film a lot I don’t think I could explain the full plot to anyone even though I was stone sober and awake when I watched it). Anyway, I found this film quite refreshing. It’s about adults (for the most part – there ARE some teen characters). It LOOKS fantastic (I REALLY dug the cinematography). It SOUNDS great (loved the score as well). It stars James Dale Badge – who is always a welcome presence in this house. And it has some standout, unique scary sequences. I wish these things could still scare me because the strobe-y stuff going on at the end could have been quite effective if I wasn’t desensitized to this stuff. A GREAT, long opening sequence in the Ura Valley at the beginning of the film sets up the rest of the story. This sequence features a super-creepy skeleton thing straight out of a Giger painting that I was just ga-ga over (seen in your screenshot). There is also a really nice sequence further along in the film that takes place in a steam room where things get so hazy that you can literally only see the ghosts of shapes on your TV screen – I thought it was really cool. First time feature director David Prior does a standout job here – I found the film to be expertly crafted (there is a shot towards the end of a child in a car crash that worked SO well at making you feel the physics of what was happening). Anyway, if you’ve got the time give this a chance as it’s a really unique and wonderful movie that is getting overlooked due to it’s slightly extended (but STILL shorter than a Marvel movie) running time.

Dr Nick Riviera
Dr Nick Riviera
6 months ago

I know what you mean, Unk. I multitask at work ALL WEEK. When it comes to the part of the week that I enjoy (i.e. my horror movies) they get my FULL attention. If I’m tempted to grab my phone, I know it’s time to turn the film off and start something else because *that* one just isn’t working for me.