A Brief Review of The Empty Man (2020)


When it comes to film trailers, I think everyone has had the experience of watching one that seemed to contain every scene in the film that was worth watching. Of course, there's no way to know that until one sees the film. And when one finally does see such a film, it is a massive disappointment. Much less common but still troublesome is the scenario where the trailer so misleading that it makes it look like the film is very different from what it really is. I recently stumbled across the most egregious example of this phenomenon I can recall in the form of The Empty Man (2020), a horror film that received poor reviews on release but has turned into something of a cult classic since then.

The trailer made it look like it was going to be a ripoff of the Slender Man nonsense. Watching the trailer, I was reminded of a bad made-for-TV film like the garbage served up by the SyFy channel. I almost skipped it for that reason. But this was a case where taking a chance despite the awful trailer paid off, as it ended up really liking it.

I have to acknowledge that The Empty Man was a strange film with a few major flaws that won't be for everyone. It was too long, disjointed, and often seemed to be heading in a few different directions at the same time. I did not hate the ending, but it was somewhat of a let-down. The first thought I had as the final credits rolled was that this should have been a six-part series rather than a film. There was so much good stuff but it was almost like they couldn't figure out which thread to follow or didn't have the time to connect them.

On the other hand, the first 20 minutes or so were so good that I was hooked right away. I remember being roughly 20 minutes in wondering if I had somehow ended up watching a different flick than I had intended because it bore no resemblance to the trailer. Admittedly, nothing that came after the intro was as good, but it was still sufficiently entertaining to hold my attention. A few parts were predictable, a few didn't make sense, but most were effective. There was a very cool sense of nothing being what it seemed. This effectively built a sense of dread, and I'd put this in the slow-burn horror category.

The plot centers on a former police officer who begins trying to find a missing girl and ends up discovering a bizarre cult trying to summon some sort of supernatural entity. There were places where it reminded me of the sort of detective-oriented thriller we might have seen in the late 90s or early 2000s, but it had far more of a philosophical bent and seemed to cross multiple genres. Beyond that, it is hard to say more without giving too much away. Every review of the film I've seen has commented on its Lovecraftian themes, and I wholeheartedly agree. I haven't always been a fan of the cosmic horror stuff, but it has grown on me in the last few years. This was a fine example of it being done right.

Lovecraft fans and anyone who enjoyed The Void might like this one; teens looking for Slender Man or any of the typical teen horror fare will be very disappointed. As for me, I found The Empty Man to be a pleasant surprise. I have a feeling it will lead me to watch lots more bad horror films in my quest to find more underappreciated gems.

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