“We cannot indict the cosmos.”
This line in The empty manissued by detective Villers (Ron Canada), talks about the desperation that pervades this entire feature. Horror movies are no strangers to dark atmospheres, and many modern scary movies are wall-to-wall darkness, except perhaps for a happy ending. But titles like Conspiracy Where The black phone limited the fear of the world to a person or place where supernatural entities flourish. The empty man is a downright nihilistic exercise because its fears can come from anywhere. In David PriorIn the effort to make the feature film, desperation and terror are around every corner thanks to the terrible impulses of humanity rather than just the malevolent behavior of its titular creature.
What is “The Empty Man” about?
Loosely adapted from a series of Boom! BD Studios of the same name by Cullen Bunn and Vanessa R. Del Rey, The empty man follows former police officer James Lasombra (James Insigne Dale), whose entire life lives in the shadow of the tragic death of his wife and son in a car accident. When his neighbor’s daughter, Amanda (Sasha Frolova) goes missing, Lasombra takes it upon herself to find out where she went and what an entity called The Empty Man has to do with her disappearance. Before we even get to that main plot, however, The empty man makes its dark tone apparent through a lengthy prologue involving hikers who end up being doomed once a member of the group becomes possessed by The Empty Man.
In ‘The Empty Man’ evils are everywhere
Start your feature film with a standalone blurred area the episode is already enough of a flurry of movement to earn the audience’s respect. But the fact that Prior’s storyline begins on a totally different continent from the rest of the film immediately establishes just how everywhere the evils of The Empty Man and human beings are. The moment Paul (Aaron Pool) becomes a tool for greater supernatural forces, his three friends begin to crack under the pressure. No heroes emerge in this time of crisis, just people turning around and one band member even berates Paul for always being self-centered in life. Conflict still simmered within this social group, a signal of the darkness that lies in the soul of man.
This prologue also establishes a detail that highlights That of the empty man dark tone as something unique to the pantheon of horror cinema: the randomness of its brutality. Ask Jamie Kennedy of Scream and he’ll tell you that there are “rules” as to who lives and dies in mainstream horror movies. The empty man, like so many other horror films, casts those roles, but here it’s done to suggest that no one is safe from the cruelty of mankind. It doesn’t matter if you’re a virgin, saint, criminal or whatever, everyone is sensitive to The Empty Man’s whims as well as the horrors human beings can commit. This prologue and its pile of bodies show it well. Killers or victims, no one is immune.
Of the, The empty man focuses on Lasombra, who is as downtrodden in disposition as the films tone. When Amanda’s mother, Nora (sailor ireland), asks Lasombra if the cops will do anything to find his daughter, he sullenly replies “probably not”. This guy had been in law enforcement for years. He knows their double standards, their priorities and everything else. He knows they can’t ask the cops for help. Institutions conceptually designed to help people are just further evidence of moral decay in the world of The empty man. Everyone is alone here.
‘The Empty Man’ evokes real-life cults
Considering this truism, it is perhaps no wonder that people in this world have begun to turn to the Pontifex Institute, a cult that preaches wisdom about how, among other fundamental ideas, reality itself- itself is extremely flexible, and as a by-product of that, morality does not exist. All of these ideas involve the entity known as The Empty Man, but they send chills down your spine because they invoke actual cults. More specifically, they recall the extent to which exploitation is contained at all levels in these organizations. Arthur Parsons, director of the Pontifex Institute (Stephen Root) strings jim jones and countless others throughout history who have preached compassion but normalized slaughter. The members of this cult, who will do anything in the name of The Empty Man, conjure up equally horribly unforgettable characters from the real world.
Prior reminds us that Boogeymen are found in ordinary people
That of the empty man the dreary atmosphere doesn’t scare you because everything is gray and dark. Prior’s script cleverly channels reality by reminding viewers what kind of boogeymen lurk in everyday people. Who needs a killer with a hockey mask when there are people out there out there out there who are out there out there willing to murder others in the name of their cult? Detective Villers himself talks about it in a long monologue after Davara (Samantha Logan) kills himself in a particularly brutal way. His dialogue references other recent murders and acts of violence related to The Empty Man. All this carnage, coming from the most unexpected people, is just too much for Villers to comprehend.
His bewilderment at the state of the world and how chaotic violence seems to be everywhere is very relevant. Anyone who has fallen down a rabbit hole of news articles about global atrocities or even just Wikipedia pages about various horrific events in history will know that the depravity of humanity can often be overwhelming. That of the empty man Humanity’s dark outlook is further underscored by a memorable scene where Lasombra kidnaps a member of the Pontifex Institute in broad daylight from a sidewalk. You’d think it would be impossible for him to smuggle this guy into his car at this time of day, but the camera lingers on any potential witnesses nearby being too busy glued to their phones to notice the removal. At this moment, The empty man not only highlights the bleakness of the world in murderers, but also a larger, indifferent society.
The pervasiveness of this behavior is well reinforced by the way Prior and the cinematographer Anastas Michos choose to set several key brutal sequences in the brightness of the day. Lasombra discovers the bodies of several teenagers suspended by a noose in the dark underbelly of a bridge, but he discovers this brutal scene in the middle of a sunny day. It’s not enough to be in the middle of the night for this film’s brand of horrifying carnage to be unleashed. Lasombra’s abduction also occurs as the sun is up while the final ten minutes take place almost exclusively in a seemingly conventional normally lit hospital. While the story also uses fiery nighttime rituals and a dilapidated cabin for spooky settings, many environments in The empty man quietly suggest that humanity’s worst impulses can be found anywhere and anytime.
The Empty Man Reveal Shows Just How Terrifying The Humans In This Story Are
Even the eventual reveal of the titular Empty Man shows how much more terrifying we’re supposed to find the humans in this story. The viewer and Lasombra only clearly see the Void Man once in a pivotal third-act scene where this entity attacks the former cop. Even then, audiences only get fragments of The Empty Man seen through flickering bursts of light and quick cuts in the edit. The pieces we see are surprisingly incongruous. This creature has the body of Slender Man, but also what appears to be sharp fangs, as well as a lizard tail and a cape. None of these design elements typically belong to the same type of horror movie monster, it’s as if The Empty Man was an intentional mish-mash of a whole host of different things that people might find scary.
Going this route gives a sense of ambiguity to what The Empty Man looks like even when it’s technically onscreen. It also accentuates how fearful we are of human beings in this story since, unlike the being they worship, they were clearly visible on screen throughout the feature. Prior’s decision to go in this direction in the third act might disappoint some viewers looking for a conventional creature feature. However, it highlights both the bold creative tendencies of The empty man and also which creatures this story finds the scariest of all.
The empty man is a film of chaos. A story that begins with a best friend becoming a conduit for a bloodthirsty supernatural being ends with an ex-cop seeing his entire reality shattered. Throughout its execution, this chaos is often stimulated by the actions of human beings. This relentlessly dark atmosphere and its view of the human race certainly lack enough additional nuance to ensure that it shouldn’t be embraced as an actual worldview (although the reason anyone would seek out visions of the world from R-rated horror movies is beyond me). But for those looking for a unique slice of harrowing horror cinema, who isn’t afraid to confront how extremely chaotic the everyday world can be, The empty man is the moving film for you.