• Nate Adams

Review: Hollow 'The Empty Man' an overlong supernatural thriller that goes nowhere


Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

You know that Disney, who purchased 20th Century Fox two years ago and has been steadily cleaning out their remaining properties, had completely forgotten about “The Empty Man” an adaptation of the popular graphic novel of the same name. Aside from the trailer literally dropping one week prior to its release, “The Empty Man” is contractually obligated to get a theatrical release and Disney has seen the pandemic as a way to cut dead weight (sorry, “The New Mutants”). But the biggest tell that no brass at the mouse house had ever laid eyes on “The Empty Man” is how the opening logo and credits still say 20th Century Fox. Considering the studio has since rebranded to 20th Century Studios, and even the trailer last week had the new logo, Disney didn’t even task some underpaid intern to quickly scrub the old logo and replace it with the new one for the final print. 


In other words, it’s the perfect metaphor for how terrible “The Empty Man” is.


Running an overlong two hours and twenty minutes, “The Empty Man” – probably the bastard cousin twice removed from “The Bye Bye Man” or “Slenderman,” not good company – is a total bore. Here we have another unseen, cloaked boogeyman who lurks in the shadows, preys on the innocent, and is summoned by silly measures (in this case, by blowing air into an empty bottle on a bridge).


Written and directed by David Prior, “The Empty Man” doesn’t so much feature an opening sequence, but an opening movie. Four hikers are caught in the middle of a huge snowstorm traversing through the mountains of South Asia. One of the hikers hears a strange noise and finds himself in a small cavern, triggering an ancient curse that, in three days, takes over the mind and body. Not until after, what feels like, three long and excoriating days are we greeted with the opening title card, and we shift gears to Missouri where ex-cop James Lasombra (James Badge Dale) begins tracking down a missing teen who left behind strange messages in relation to a figure called The Empty Man.


What should be an open and shut case, instead sees Prior extend the already thin Urban Legend folklore into long patches of uneventful dreck. In fact, “The Empty Man” becomes more of an idea than an actual presence the longer the film rolls on. This hollow movie shifts gears from cop procedural, to psychological thriller, to cheap slasher flick in one thirty-minute stretch. The filmmakers show ambition with a focus on existential through and experimentation that becomes a foothold for the final hour, but a last second GOTCHA twist is so convoluted, I’d like to ask the actors if they had any idea what was going on. 


Give credit to “The Empty Man” for trying to subvert expectations regarding this subgenre of supernatural entities, but its ideas overrun the presentation. No film with this minimal amount of plot or character development - Badge Dale reaches for something although his character, the clichéd cop with a broken past, is hilariously underwritten and one dimensional - should ever run past the 90-minute mark.


Empty is an understatement.


Grade: D+


THE EMPTY MAN is now playing at theaters and select drive-ins


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