Karl’s review published on Letterboxd:
Just because you don’t understand a movie doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. The Empty Man one of the last films made by 20th Century Fox was dumped by Disney in October 2020. At the time those who saw it widely dismissed it. I decided to avoid it like the plague.
Then this month I started reading great reactions to it and watching YouTube videos such as the ones by Chris Stuckman saying it was unfairly maligned. So I decided to buy a digital copy on Amazon (it was only $4.99 and in 4K). I could’ve rented it for less but figured this was a film that would need at least two viewings. Boy was I right about that.
This first viewing had me quite perplexed but I appreciated the atmosphere and the ambitious nature that we rarely see in Hollywood films with a nice budget. I thought the 20 minute prologue was gangbusters. The remainder of the film is like a puzzle of what is real and what isn’t and doesn’t it even matter. There are moments of feel terror that had this jaded horror fan creeped out.
Despite the long running time I felt very engaged. I’m a sucker for films about cults and are main character played by James Badge Dale becomes consumed by one while searching for his neighbors missing daughter. There are some beautifully filmed sequences at night and great use of bridges. You also have a haunting score by horror master Christopher Young. It was also unique to have a film take place in St Louis.
For now I admire the film more than I enjoy it. That’s probably because I was too busy trying to puzzle things together. I didn’t feel an emotional connection to Dale. I have a feeling this issue might improve on a second viewing.
The director is mainly known for short docs on Cronenberg and Fincher films. Their influence on him is evident. If you like puzzle films with lots of symbolism I’d give this a chance. You might still dislike it but just know it’s not some typical horror film about a killer entity running around called The Empty Man. I mean there is that but so much more.