The Ghosts Of Horror’s Past
Modern day horrors are tough to pull off without feeling like a cliché of what’s come before. As The Empty Man releases to empty theatres, one can’t help but feel a profound sense of Deja vu while watching this movie.
In its simplest form, The Empty Man is a cobbled together patchwork of other movies; an echo of past joys and woes from the big screen merged together to form one underwhelming film.
To be fair though, the first act in this film is really quite good. We open to four hikers exploring the remote area of Bhutan but one among them hears faint whispers on the air.
As this man steps closer to the cliff edge, he eventually falls to his doom. Only, he’s not actually dead. Instead, he sits cross-legged inside a cave facing an ominous looking skeleton and whispering incomprehensible speech.
Saving him from his fate, the rest of the hikers find refuge in a nearby cabin where things go from bad to worse. After this 20 minute introduction, we then skip forward to follow ex-cop James Lasombra.
This man has a pretty dark history and he’s on the hunt for a missing school student who may be linked to what happened in Bhutan. His search uncovers fragments of a fable known simply as The Empty Man.
This is where the film begins to borrow concepts from other horrors – most notably the 2002 American remake of The Ring. Instead of 7 days and swirly faces, The Empty Man gives James 3 days to solve his case before it’s too late.
As the old legend goes “On the first night you hear him, the second night you see him and the third night he finds you.” That third night, as we soon come to understand, a menacing robed apparition appears; a suitable modern-day spin on the old Candyman legend.
As the film progresses, so too does the investigation and the revolving guest appearances of past horror films. There’s a Midsommar-esque cult that may hold the answers and a suitable David Lynch-esque final act to top it all off. In fact, this bizarre, hallucinatory third act – while intriguing and surprising – destroys any credibility the rest of the film builds with a completely nonsensical twist.
When the credits roll, it’s hard not to feel like The Empty Man is an echo chamber of familiar horror film plots. Unfortunately the film isn’t self-aware enough to realize what it’s doing nor exciting enough for audiences to look past this and enjoy the ride.
The movie somehow feels both too safe to pull the trigger on its scares and too tonally inconsistent to enjoy as either of its chosen genres – thriller, horror and crime drama respectively. While the suspense is pretty high throughout these genre switches, The Empty Man fails to back that up with a compelling pay-off at the end.
On a more positive note though, the sound design in this is incredibly effective at getting under your skin. From the bottle blowing and clicking to the minor tone chords clinging to every scene, The Empty Man’s audio is second to none.
The faults with this film are certainly not with James Badge Dale either, who does the best he can to channel his inner snarky cop vibes. This is certainly not an unfamiliar gig to him, especially after his similar role in Starz series Hightown earlier in the year.
Aside from him though, the rest of the characters feel like melodramatic caricatures, carrying around far too much baggage and reveling in the misery this film conjures up.
And that’s unfortunately the biggest problem with The Empty Man. While the plot twists toward the end are shocking, they feel like a ploy to keep audiences sticking around rather than adding to the intensity of the film. The Empty Man is a disappointing horror and a pretty lacklustre thriller too; this is not one you’ll return to in a hurry.