The Empty Man

The Empty Man ★★★½

A near-masterpiece for a full two hours that collapses in its last fifteen minutes. The extended pre-title scene works both as a killer short film and as an intriguing urban legend set-up, which epitomizes the film’s totally earned ponderous length. Prior’s Fincher-esque images and James Badge Dale’s screen presence do a lot of the heavy lifting in that regard, especially when treading through a pretty familiar blend of monster movie/pagan cult plotting. But the atmospherics remain memorably creepy throughout, from the bridge sequence with the teenagers to the sewers of the wacko Pontifex Institute, the slow-burn had me hooked. Most of all though, the entire Camp Elsewhere scene—the initial scene transition where a map transforms into a forest, the low angle shots of Lasombra in the swamp, the crowd swirling and chanting in unison around a possessed fire (an image that never fails to creep me out)—is forever etched in my memory. Controversial opinion: Paganism and cults…I’m not a fan. 

But then…that ending happens. To be fair, I’m not really sure how one would go about ending the narrative here, and Prior does shoot the hell out of the lunacy on a formal level, but c’mon surely there was a better option. A lot of interesting ideas are played with throughout the film (Jacques Derrida school lol)—e.g. the communicability of ideas amongst socially engineered youth—but nothing really comes together coherently in the end…pity. 

One thing is for sure: I’m never gonna see those folks who attempt to “manifest” things into existence the same again. I mean, I already made fun of them constantly, along with anything New Age related, but maybe that’s just ‘cause I’m a Sagittarius. I best go buy some healing crystals, channel with some spirits, read my horoscope, and really validate myself some self-care, right? It’s not as if then I will be susceptible (a.k.a. “empty”) to latch onto whatever the latest fashionable ideas are, right? It’s not as if these practices have evil spiritual roots, right? Right…?

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