The Empty man was something I wanted to check out after watching Chris Stuckmann’s review.
Apparently, it was filmed in 2017, wasn’t fully finished then dumped into theatres in October 2020. Safe to say, it did not set the world on fire as the world was going through Lockdown #1004 or something. I lost track after the first thousand.
Anyway, it was on the list and finally got round to watching The Empty Man.
Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite. What follows may or may not contain spoilers so consider this to be your fair warning.
The Empty Man-Strong Opening
The Empty Man begins in Bhutan. A group of backpackers exploring a mountain range. They discover a creepy statue/skeleton in a cave. After that, there are some creepy occurrences and ends in, shall we say, a few deaths.
This opening sequence is fantastic. It sets the slow pace and creepy tone up in a perfect way. Like I was generally creeped out by the opening. It’s a brilliant way to kick off the film. There is just one problem, a problem that will permeate the rest of the film. It’s far too long. The precredit sequence is 20 minutes long, the first act of most films. While the suspense is well done. Having the hikers stranded in an abandoned cabin during a blizzard. You can’t really invest in the characters because you know that things will come to a gory end with them.
Take one of my favourite horror films from the 2010s; It Follows. The precredit sequence for it is 4 minutes approx. It does the same thing but a fifth of the time.
After that, the film jumps Stateside, and we are introduced to the main characters proper. The film almost drops its horror trappings entirely; There is some creepy going on. There is a murder in a sauna. Aside from that, there is no real moments of horror, there is a decent set piece at an abandoned camp but overall it’s quite thin on the ground.
The film is pretty stylish in places with shallow depth of field close-ups. It has an authentic grunge look in places. Overall except for some dodgy CG compositing, you can’t really fault the look of the film. It’s raining most of the time too. The film’s atmosphere feels like when you step into a warm place after getting caught in the rain. You know that discomfort I’m talking about?
There are some cool ideas in The Empty Man. It concerns the power of concentrated thought being used to manifest realities. It is kind of cool. The only problem is that it is not explored. To what end are the cult at the centre of the film using these powers? Antennae for what? What is the significance of blowing into the bottle?
All these questions go unanswered, which leads to an overall unsatisfactory ending. It was one of those films were I found myself looking up ending explained videos only for them not to shed much light on it. Like the main thrust of it I got but all the surrounding stuff remains in shadow. Maybe that is part of the appeal and it sailed over my head.
What kind of film does it want to be?
The films Empty Man reminds me most of, The Ring, Rosemary’s Baby, It Follows and Under Silver Lake.
Here’s the thing, it feels like it is not too sure what it wants to be at times. Is it a horror, mystery film, conspiracy film? It’s got a lot of stuff going on, but at the same time, not much.
At times the Empty Man feels like two films clashing. On the one hand, you have the rules-based bogey man, and on the other hand, you have the sinister conspiracy cult. The two never feel like they meet. The horror element feels like it is dispensed with early on.
Looking into the IMDB page of the director David Prior one thing becomes apparent. Prior has directed several behind the scenes/ makings of for David Fincher. You know what, it shines through on this. At the same time, it feels like writer-director David Prior got a lot of the surface value right. However, the substance or lack of therein is noticeable too. You know I’ve been fighting the urge to make an empty man pun, but I’m going to rise above it in this instance.
The phrase “cult classic” keeps getting bandied about regarding The Empty Man. I mean, I can see it to an extent. There seems to be more profound lore in the background. But, at the same time, it feels like it is missing that campy appeal that many cult classics have. It’s missing that x-factor. Do you know what I mean? That kind of shock value weirdness that films like Basket-Case (which is excellent) have. Even films like The Neon Demon (which I was not a fan of) have in spades.
Do I recommend this? I mean, interestingly, a studio took a chance on something like this. Did they know what they were getting themselves into? Is this why the film sat on a shelf for three years?
The Empty Man is an impressive debut that falls short of the mark, but not for lack of ambition. You can pick it up on most streaming services.
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