The Empty Man (2020)

Genres - Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Supernatural Horror  |   Run Time - 137 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Jules Fox

The Empty Man is a horror film based on the graphic novel of the same name. A former cop still grieving from the death of his own sweet family, stumbles on something much larger than he's ready for when he tries to help out the child of a friend. Led down a dark path into a cult of people trying to summon a supernatural force, James finds himself and everyone he knows in grave danger.

Ex-cop turned security store owner James Lasombra (James Badge Dale) harbors Amanda (Sasha Frolova), his friend's troubled teen, for the night. But she vanishes the next morning, leaving blood scrawled on his walls that references 'The Empty Man.'

Still grieving from the tragic and brutal death of his own wife and son, James goes on a quest to find Amanda, for both her mother Nora (Marin Ireland) as well as for his own personal inability to stop something horrible from happening again. He discovers what appears to be an urban legend, and if instructions are followed, The Empty Man can be summoned, with devastating results.

But this is only a hint of the horror to come. Something much deeper and darker awaits, as a cult of people are attempting to bring something much more sinister to life. Now James' life is in danger, along with everyone around him. Will he be able to unravel the mystery, and get out alive?

Written and directed by feature film newcomer David Prior, The Empty Man offers marginally more depth than the title suggests. Strong performances are evoked from the main cast, spending a significant amount of time revolving around the tortured cop hero. There is as much nuance here as there is bizarre genre blending, mashed up with over-the-top moments, which works in its own way.

Where The Empty Man falls apart is the inability to properly show what all the fuss at the beginning is about. The coming horror that's hinted at proves to move from a shadowy stalker, to a shadowy figure possibly lurking, to a shadow in the dark that's hard to follow. A strong twist in the second half both shifts things radically, while derailing the entire film, as it tries to start something new with no momentum to work with and way too late in the film for it to go anywhere.

With a surprisingly long runtime of well over two hours, there are moments of extended silence and intrigue, which are usually not made possible in the horror genre. There are still jump scares and musical hits; the attempt at something more profound is admirable and at times well-executed. Rare, genuine shivers are doled out slowly over the course of the film. All that being said, the run time still could have been either cut down further, or there could have been a more focused approach taken to the events.

There is a significant mash-up of elements at work in The Empty Man. Revolving between unbelievable, unintentionally funny, macabre, and truly scary, the uneven tone and unexpected twists have a broad range of scattershot impact. Like the lovechild of its many predecessors, the film takes on a clear direction down a well-lit path, then veers wildly into the dark night.