Retired cop James Lasombra (James Badge Dale) is asked by his friend Nora Quail (Marin Ireland) to investigate the disappearance of her daughter Amanda (Sasha Frolova), who seemingly packed in the night and left an ominous message on the bathroom mirror – “The Empty Man Made Me Do It.” As he investigates this mysterious figure further, James begins to see and hear strange things and is forced to come to terms with his past and what it means for his future.
One would be immediately forgiven if they were to take a look at the title or poster for David Prior’s The Empty Man and pass it as a silly movie that’s probably based on a creepypasta. As we have gotten to know in the past few years, movies based on creepypastas – fictitious internet horror stories like the Slender Man – are almost always horrible. The Slender Man film was a genuine embarrassment for the horror community, and some lesser-known ones like The Rake have failed to impress audiences and critics alike.
But Prior’s Empty Man is not a film based on a creepypasta at all. It is a loose adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, but even if you are not familiar with the source material at all like me, you don’t have to worry. The moment The Empty Man begins with its hauntingly bleak first few minutes that leave you feeling cold and uncomfortable, all the way to its terrifying and ambiguous ending, this is absolutely one of the best horror movies since Ari Aster’s Hereditary and a classic case of an amazing film that is sadly plagued with obscurity.
This is most definitely a film that a lot of mainstream audiences will not enjoy and that’s totally okay. A lot of horror films these days tend to spoon-feed the viewer information and they usually tend to give the viewer little pieces of information along the way, so they don’t have to play a big guessing game throughout the entire movie.
If you are somebody that likes films that do this, that’s completely fine. To each their own. But I personally love a film that doesn’t give the audience all the answers right away, but rather, a film that respects its audience by making a story that’s interesting to dissect and analyze. Even though I’ve seen this film in its entirety, I want to watch it again and see if I can pick up some clues for what it means. Because The Empty Man clearly has a deep and haunting meaning to it and it’s something that I desperately want to get to the bottom of. But even if I am never able to do that, I am happy that I got to watch a film so mind-numbingly chaotic and genuinely scary regardless.
All of the performances further accentuate the film’s overall greatness. James Badge Dale gives the best performance of his career as the protagonist James Lasombra. His character is one that the audience can get behind but also be curious about. Nobody in this story feels concrete. There’s always a mystery looming throughout The Empty Man, whether it’s physical or psychological. Some people may find this ambitious movie to be a bit too much and unsatisfying, but there will also be some people that cannot wait to watch it over and over again to find deeper meanings, themes, and secrets. I fall into the latter.
Overall Grade: A+
MPAA Rating: R for violence, disturbing images, language, some sexuality, and nudity
Directed by: David Prior
Distributed by: 20th Century Studios
Release Date: October 23, 2020
Running Time: 137 minutes