“On the trail of a missing girl, an ex-cop comes across a secretive group attempting to summon a terrifying supernatural entity.”
Director: David Prior
Writers: David Prior, Cullen Bunn
Staring: James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland, Sasha Frolova
Streaming: HBO Max
Release Date: October 23, 2020
Right from the get-go, anyone can tell that The Empty Man is made with care and skill. The opening 10 minutes before the title screen is not just simple exposition. Director and writer David Prior creates a mini movie that would be scary and entertaining on its own and weaves it into the story with an anticipated amount of finesse.
The main story follows the journey of James Losombra (James Badge Dale) investigating the disappearance of high schooler Amanda Quail (Sasha Frolova). The nature of her vanishing starts off as a tad eerie but digresses fully into the supernatural and spooky as Lasombra delves deeper into the mystery. The entity of The Empty Man is at the center of the suspense, and the legend surrounding him is not a happy one. As Lasombra keeps being told, “The first night you hear him. The second night you see him. The third night he finds you.”
The story of The Empty Man is not the easiest to follow, but it treads the really fine line of making the audience ask more questions than the story itself answers. The filmmaking itself is a notch above what this type of movie typically has in store, and the acting by all parties is more than just your average horror movie flare. Every aspect of The Empty Man is built upon itself, and the relatively slow burn of the story allows for the performances and eeriness of the mystery to handcuff you to your seat.
James Badge Dale in the lead role is fucking excellent in The Empty Man. His backstory, which is honed out with clues and well used flashbacks, adds depth to his brooding yet dedicated approach to his search for Amanda. He blends scared and brave effectively, and come the conclusion, you as the audience are in the same crazed state of mind that he is experiencing. The Empty Man never tells the audience more than its main character knows. You are finding it out all at the same time, the character of Lasombra is played out so effectively that you are walking in his footsteps and scared to open the same doors of discovery that he is.
It is worth reiterating that The Empty Man is made exceptionally well. David Prior, who has not made anything since 2012 surrounding The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2012), knows what he is doing when creating tension. When Lasombra goes to a remote camp site and snoop on the Pontifex Institute, the weirdness gets cranked up to 1000 and so do the spooks. When Lasombra utters, “Yeah, no.” he is speaking for the viewers as well. It is terrifying, and the horror is not done with anything “extra.” It is set up with mood.
While the directing and construction of the movie is great, so is the script. Maybe the dialogue isn’t top notch, but it is the symbolism and motifs intertwined throughout the story. The concept of needing to delve into ones soul and see what one can bring forth is flirted with often, but the number one tool of story telling in The Empty Man is bridges. The idea of breaching two seemingly unattachable points together and creating a way to navigate between them. Those who have seen The Empty Man will truly understand this.
It is a shame that The Empty Man was dumped into movie theaters with no fanfare behind it. Movies like Slender Man (2018) got more fanfare than The Empty Man, which is an absolute sin. The Empty Man is long, but it is scary and eerie throughout. The few jump scares are merely the initial ripple effects of terror The Empty Man pulses with. Eventually you watch that terror grow and it isn’t the quick scares that frighten you, but its the entire picture and how you don’t know any of it.
STANKO RATING: B+ (4.0/5 Stars)
P.S. The fact that this movie is technically a Disney movie is hilarious. It has the 20th Century Fox logo during the credits, making one believe that Disney wanted nothing to do with The Empty Man.
P.S.S. This movie is based off a graphic novel written by Cullen Bunn. Had no idea before watching, but makes me want to pick it up and read it.
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