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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

‘The Empty Man’: The cult horror hit you’ve never heard of

Elaine Park | The Observer
Elaine Park | The Observer

David Prior’s “The Empty Man” hit theaters in October 2020 and despite being a film by 20th Century, it received no advertising or fanfare whatsoever, which naturally resulted in the film having a remarkably short theatrical run. There is no logical explanation as to why the film is relevant today. However, “The Empty Man” has been given new life due to the advent of streaming services and has achieved a kind of underground cult status amongst fans of the horror genre.


“The Empty Man” features a plot that twists and turns its way across a runtime of just under two and a half hours. The film centers on James (James Badge Dale), an ex-cop who is trying to solve the mystery of a girl’s disappearance. What starts as a rather standard missing person case quickly becomes a multiple homicide that is related to an urban legend, which James soon discovers is also related to a full-blown cult conspiracy. The cult in question is attempting to summon a supernatural being the titular Empty Man. There’s not much else I can tell you about the film without ruining the experience, and I think it’s best to go in knowing as little about the plot as possible.

My favorite part of “The Empty Man” is the part of the movie that presents the Empty Man as being an urban legend, such as Candyman or Bloody Mary, but with a grain of truth to the story. The rules are simple: If you blow an empty bottle on an empty bridge, the Empty Man will come. On the first night, you hear him. On the second night, you see him. On the third night, he finds you. This kind of classic urban legend storytelling gives the characters just enough information to wonder if there is any truth to it. Of course, as this is a horror film, someone risks it and kicks off the series of events that the film centers around.


Despite its intimidating runtime and labyrinthine plot, “The Empty Man” never failed to keep me engaged. The film moves at a good clip and flows very well. The only time I was actively aware of a pacing issue was in the film’s opening prologue, which tells an entirely different story than the main portion of the movie, yet I feel it is a necessary component of “The Empty Man.” I feel that the film is justified in its runtime; so much happens over the course of the film that part of me wishes Prior had opted for a longer runtime and allowed the story to breathe a bit, embracing the sense of impending doom that the plot is imbued with. 


Prior’s direction is the real star of the show, taking a rather confounding plot and weaving it together in such a way that once the credits roll after the film’s surreal third act the audience isn’t left baffled, but instead is given a sense of closure. Prior manages to answer all the right questions while also still leaving a few loose ends to maintain the mystery surrounding the events of the film’s plot.


“The Empty Man” falls within the same investigative sub-genre of horror that “The Wicker Man” (1973), “A Cure for Wellness” and “Videodrome” and excels at capturing everything that makes these kinds of films so engaging. In a few years, I think “The Empty Man” will start to reach the status of a cult classic and gain the acclaim that it deserves. Seek out “The Empty Man” and strap in for a truly unique horror film you’ll be able to say you saw before it blew up.


Title: “The Empty Man”

Director: David Prior

Starring: James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland

Genre: Horror, Thriller

If you liked: “The Wicker Man” (1973), “A Cure for Wellness,” “Se7en”

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5