Horrortoberfest ’21 Day 20 – The Empty Man (2020)

With a name like The Empty Man making me think of Slenderman and the tag line reinforcing the idea that this is a movie about a boogeyman that comes to get you in three days; I thought that this would be a great fit for the boogeyman week. While at first it sort of seems that way, by the time you get to the end of the movie, everything is all mixed up and there’s no telling what the hell is actually going on.

We start the movie with a prologue that lasts about 20 minutes before we even get to the opening credits and that’s going to establish the ponderous pace of the rest of this. After the prologue, we get our main protagonist for the story, James Lasombra. After his neighbor’s kid, Amanda, goes missing, ex-cop James decides to look into what happened. He finds out about the urban legend of The Empty Man, a boogeyman that you can summon by blowing into a bottle on a bridge at night that will get you after three nights. What seems like a standard supernatural Bloody Mary situation instead turns into a mind bending trip with secret societies, thought made real, and lots of things being entirely up to the interpretation of the viewer.

This movie feels like it’s going to be a very close parallel to The Ring in the first part. Tragedy happens, person investigates, finds out about urban legend/curse that they also get wrapped up in, etc. It hits all the major beats and you think you know where it’s going but suddenly the movie starts getting extremely philosophical about the nature of reality and how thought changes perception and so on. I should have seen it coming since they decided to make Amanda’s high school Jacque Derrida High. If you are the type of person to immediately tune out as soon as someone starts talking about the power of repeated thought and the meaning we give to reality, then boy is this film going to just immediately lose you about halfway into it.

The way the movie transitions from haunted hikers in the prologue, to The Ring in the first act, and then a secret society thriller in the second, and a Jacob’s Ladder “what is real” mindfuck in the third makes it so you aren’t exactly bored while watching this 2 and a half hour monstrosity. However, because the movie shifts so much in what it’s about and how it presents things, I can see plenty of people not enjoying it. I think I just get annoyed when a movie sells me as being a cool boogeyman story and then decides it needs to explain Nietzsche quotes to me. Is the Empty Man something out there or is it actually you who are the Empty Man? Makes you think. Maybe the real Empty Man was the friends we made along the way.

I’m sure that some people in the crossover of the Venn diagram between horror nerds and philosophy nerds will enjoy watching this and debating if various things were true or manipulations but it fell a bit flat for me. While I don’t mind some high concept stuff in my horror, I do at least want to have some degree of resolution at the end.

Score: 2.5 out of 5

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