Written and Directed by David Prior
Based on the graphic novel by Cullen Benn, Vanesa R. Del Rey
Starring James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland, Stephen Root, Ron Canada, Robert Aramayo, Joel Courtney, Sasha Frolova
Normally I don’t mind a film that leaves the viewer with questions. The Empire Strikes Back and Inceptions are two fine examples of this technique. In the case of David Prior’s The Empty Man, it takes a hell of a long time to get to those questions. Strangely, none of the questions are all that interesting either. The film is 2:07 of building the mood, only to unravel in an unsatisfying way.
Starting out in Ura Valley, Bhutan, four hikers meet with tragedy after one of them follows a voice down a crevice in the mountain. 23 years later in Missouri, James (Badge Dale) a former detective with a security store is visited by Amanda (Frolova), the daughter of his widowed friend, Nora (Ireland). Amanda has one of those Children of the Corn haircuts, and the things she tells James show someone who is on the verge of losing her sanity. Yet she seems serene and discusses the pleasure of emptiness.
Later, James, who is recovering from the death of his wife and son, is called over to Nora after Amanda seemingly runs away. The mirror in the bathroom has a blood soaked message: “The Empty Man made me do it.”
After calling in the police, James decides to help Nora by investigating her daughter’s disappearance. After talking to one of Amanda’s friends, he is brought deeper into what appears to be a cult worshiping The Empty Man. Who or what he is, we’re not allowed to know. Instead, we see James walking through offices, grabbing files and wandering conference rooms with people gathered in a gleeful manner, chanting and responding.
If much of this feels familiar, it’s probably because it’s not real original. The most intriguing aspect of the film is the opening, and we never see the imagery, much less the remains that we see in that original cave. Personally, it would be awesome to know what the hell that skeleton is about.
This is not to say the film is bad. It’s actually pretty well planned out. The imagery is excellent at times (under the bridge) and the music surges us forward appropriately. The first two acts are driven by a good performance by Badge Dale. He looks as disappointed as the viewer by the choices the filmmakers take in the final frames.
If you want something to watch as it turns dusk, you could do worse. From dusk till dawn, though, you should try for something with more than chills.
(*** out of *****)