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.