Released: 23rd October
Seen: 31st October
Movies that begin with The and end in Man in the horror genre have lately filled me with dread lately. With the exception of The Invisible Man, I can’t think of a good film with this combination of words in the title so imagine how I felt seeing the poster for The Empty Man. If you thought I was prepared for a long slow boring film that tried far too hard to be smarter than it was, then you know me far too well… and you also just described the film to a T.
The Empty Man, based on the comic book of the same name, takes place in a small town where a bunch of kids take part in a strange little ritual. Apparently, if you find a bottle on a bridge and blow in it while thinking about The Empty Man (a creature that no one knows what he looks like before they think about him but let’s not question the logic this early in the review) then you summon him. On day one you hear him, on day two you see him, on day three he gets you. Naturally, this leads to the kids getting in some kind of danger and the only one who might be able to save them is a former police detective named James Lasombra (James Badge Dale) who will go through anything to figure out the truth about The Empty Man.
The Empty Man opens promisingly, with a group of hikers climbing a mountain and happening across a strange skeleton in a cave. Everything before the opening credits was interesting and clever, it had moments of tension and a dramatic climax. It set up how The Empty Man works, the rules of the horror that we’d be witnessing were laid out and it’s actually effective with a lot of good performances, interesting visuals and a genuinely effective ending that showed just what this being could convince people to do… if I had any sense I would’ve walked out when that opening scene was done because everything that followed was god awful. Every rule that had been set up in the first 15 minutes was broken by the rest of the movie, every bit of tension that we got with four hikers in a cabin was lost when it became a story of a small town cult. If you turn up late and miss the opening, you will miss the only good part of the entire film.
For the bulk of The Empty Man we’re following James as he learns about The Empty Man and, unfortunately for us, James is a boring character with no personality worth clinging on to. He just feels jaded, dare I say empty when it comes to emotions. He barely reacts to anything, a lack of reaction that reaches comical levels during a scene where he stumbles upon five teenagers who hung themselves under a bridge. It’s a haunting image, especially for the audience as these are all characters we’ve met before and now they’re hanging in a perfect line with a message written in the girder that they’re hanging from… and James reacts like he’s found a crack in the wall and is trying to figure out what brand of filler would be best for him to repair when he also has to budget in a new coat of paint for the wall. When they get to the overly complicated climax, he’s still just as boring only now he occasionally raises his voice every now and then. He’s a nothing character that, at best, keeps the plot moving through inertia. You not only end up not knowing a damn thing about him, but you don’t really care what’s happening to him and can’t even tell if he’s being somehow overtaken by The Empty Man because his performance never changes.
He’s not helped by just how generally bad everything around him is. From bad, sometimes hammy, performances by people who are supposedly helping The Empty Man to jump scares that’re so bafflingly bad that there are moments I wasn’t even sure what I was meant to be jumping at but I knew that the film wanted me to jump because it made the loud blaring foghorn sound that every bad film makes when something scary happens and they want to make sure you jump so you will later claim that you got scared. I didn’t get scared, I was startled and there is a substantial difference between those emotions.
Then there are just the wasted opportunities that get to become irritating by just how many there are. The Empty Man has a lot of moments where they show a dark room off to the side of the main character. Good horror movies with subjects like “Summoned demons” who would like to make the audience tense would use this kind of shot to hide the demon in the darkened room so the audience sees it and gets scared about what’s going to happen. Look at the recent Netflix series The Haunting Of Bly Manor which is a masterclass of hiding the scary thing in plain sight and making the audience shit themselves the second they spot it… this isn’t a good film, they just couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it. I reckon they just didn’t line the shot up right to make this large canvas.
Then there’s the number of times that we don’t see anything creepy at all, we’re just watching a boring investigation in a film that clearly set itself up to be creepy… keep in mind this film opens with people seeing a weird-ass skeleton, one of them goes catatonic and whispers constant nonsense and then Death comes to mess with them. This is how we open and we don’t really get any of that again until near the very end… this film is 2 hours long, you couldn’t find a single minute in that to maybe show me something creepy?
Oh, no but this film does have the time right near the end to do the thing that I hate the most, pointless strobe lights that were so bad I actually had to look away from the screen. Again, you haven’t scared me, now you’ve irritated me, that’s not an option you should pick. Seriously, I consider anyone who uses strobes in a movie to just be a hack who doesn’t care about the wellbeing of their audience and when they also make a film that could double as a sleep aid, that backs up my claim.
At 2 hours and 17 minutes, The Empty Man is a bloated mess. So much of it feels pointless, at the halfway mark it feels like we’ve changed gears and gone into a completely different bad film. The Empty Man spends most of the time just running on fumes, it has no good ideas or clever shocks or even any actual horror that’s worth a damn. It just wastes time, I can’t even get the energy to actually hate this movie, hate would imply that it left a mark of some kind and I doubt I’ll even remember this one by the time this review goes live, that’s how boring and useless this movie is. Just watch the opening scene on YouTube when it inevitably gets uploaded there, pretend this was a short film and move on with your life.