It is October 2020; movie theaters are slowly opening back up after a long hiatus. Newly released films are being sent over to streaming, and it is up to the independent film market to make a new for themselves. However, there was one film that was sent straight to theaters and bombed at the box office. That film is David Prior’s “The Empty Man.”
The production story behind this one is very strange. David Prior was a man who worked closely with filmmakers, such as David Fincher and the Coen brothers. In 2016, Twentieth Century Fox announced an adaptation of “The Empty Man,” a film based on a comic but fairly loosely based, with Prior attached to direct. In later 2016, Prior and his crew got right to work but were hit with major weather storms causing them to finish.
After countless test screenings and studio executive meetings, Prior was told to cut the film to 90 minutes instead of its original length of 144 minutes. This was because many editors thought, “Who would want to sit through a two-hour and twenty-four-minute long horror film?” Due to this, Twentieth Century Fox placed it into the vault for a very long while.
After Disney bought Twentieth Century Fox’s rights in 2019, “The Empty Man” was lost in its archives with no release date planned. During the changes that Fox was doing under Disney’s jurisdiction, Fox dropped the trailer for David Prior’s film a whole week before its release. The film did horribly at the box office and currently has no home media release, as it is only seen through streaming services. The film would also become panned by critics for those who saw it. However, recently the film has garnered a cult following, and many wish this gains a second light from audiences.
“The Empty Man” tells the story of a legend and how it has haunted a small town. It is up to one man to stop this supernatural entity from killing many civilians. Obviously, the film is hard to market because the plot is reminiscent of films such as “The Bye Bye Man” and “Slender Man.” Plus, the original runtime of 144 minutes was still an issue, and there are no big-name actors attached to the project. However, I believe that “The Empty Man” is a horror classic and, personally, my favorite mainstream horror film that has been released recently.
What’s special about this film, is that it takes pieces from the creepypasta/urban legends that many have grown up with on the internet. “The Empty Man” is about coming to terms with your own psyche and allowing yourself to understand the depths of the unknown. The film has many moments that truly shook me to the core. My issue with modern horror is the overuse of the “jumpscare” trope. Sure, jumpscares appear throughout the film, but they work incredibly well here. This film relies on terrifying imagery rather than scares. It is up to the viewer to decide what is scary. The tension established throughout this film is absolutely wonderful. Each scene is built up to such an incredible effect that you get lost in it. The opening title card doesn’t even appear until the first 22 minutes, which is pretty bold for a studio horror movie in 2020. Yes, of course, there are twists and turns throughout this film, and they are very clever. The film changes tone from a horror film to a human drama about memories and your own human psyche.
Additionally, the acting by James Badge Dale is fantastic. Sure, this film has a long runtime and uninteresting plot (to some), but this is not your typical horror feature. The film knows the maturity level of its audience and expects them to reach the same wavelength that Prior is establishing. The cinematography is very interesting, some scenes feel like they were shot via 2000’s camcorder, and some feel modern.
Ghost stories do not really scare me. Sure, I believe in supernatural beings that appear, but stories about them do not really affect me. However, “The Empty Man” was the first movie that did so. It is terrifying, thought-provoking and a breath of fresh air for the horror genre. Prior creates an atmospheric, slowly paced and melancholic masterwork.