The Empty Man feels like a modern version of The Candyman (at least until the remake releases later this year). Just in that film, people who summon him do not believe in the myths but everyone else feels wary of this mysterious figure. However, unlike The Candyman, The Empty Man does not make any statements about how the evil figure comes to be. Racism or any other social evil is not mentioned in the mythos, though a cult features heavily.
In fact, there is barely any backstory to The Empty Man that explains its presence. This may have been something that would have been explored in any other future films if they are made. Nevertheless, I don’t think this lack of exposition will make this horror movie any less diminished. It managed to fan the flames of my curiosity.
For those unaware, The Empty Man is based on a graphic novel of the same name. Thankfully you don’t have to be familiar with the original source material, as the film is a good introduction to the world of The Empty Man.
The Empty Man follows a young girl who goes missing after performing a ritual that is rumoured to summon The Empty Man. Her mother soon reports the daughter missing, but the police seem unwilling to pursue it further, thinking she has most likely run away. However, a family friend, James (who used to be a police officer) offers to help look for her daughter for her. His investigation leads not only to the myth of The Empty Man but also to a cult that seems at first a positive thinking harmless cult but has more nefarious intentions.
The initial first scenes with the hikers who encounter the gigantic skeleton in the cave, really got me wholeheartedly interested in the mythos of The Empty Man from the get-go. The cold and harsh world around the hikers set against the mysterious cave with the terrifying colossal skeleton that is in the shape of a man is something that will leave your body cold and uncomfortable to watch.
As one of the hikers is mysteriously afflicted ending up in a catatonic state, they have to take refuge in an empty house. Fearing for their friend’s health but unable to do anything until the storm clears, they are just left pondering what they saw in the cave. These initial scenes are perhaps one of the most hauntingly beautiful yet gruesome scenes I have seen in a long time. David Prior, the director, makes us stare into the void and love it unabashedly. In the silent terror that falls upon these hikers, I am utterly involved in this film before it has even properly started.
The Empty Man will, fortunately, answer some of these questions, but not all. However, The Empty Man is not solely a horror movie, which may be disappointing depending on your expectations. Just like The Candyman, the main protagonist is seeking the truth for their own personal reasons. So the journey to the truth is just as exciting as its final destination.
It is a mixture between a horror and a mystery thriller, which is not a bad combination at all. Even though it is classed as a supernatural horror (which it does have elements of) but there is a permeating existential dread in every scene. Though it has some mystery elements, make no mistake, it feels like a cosmic horror throughout. Fatalism and impending doom are fully saturated throughout The Empty Man.
This is done beautifully with the cinematography in this. It took a subtle approach in that we felt like something was always lurking near James in this. This is achieved by wide-angle shot and transitions that feel disconnected from the events. In some scenes, as panic and terror overcome some of the characters, the visuals are fractured similar to their mental states. This aesthetic is reflected as well in the audio, which enhances the empty void that is felt by everyone that comes in contact with The Empty Man. Nietzsche’s famous phrase “…if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you” is mentioned and Prior manages to perfectly encapsulate this feeling throughout the whole of the movie.
The Empty Man unfortunately was a victim of obscurity, as the company in charge of its production and marketing changed hands. However, that in no way reflects on the quality of this film, which in my opinion is the best horror movie of 2020. Frankly, I would be shocked if The Empty Man does not become a cult favourite of horror enthusiasts years down the line.