The Empty Man

The Empty Man ★★★★

Director David Prior uses the camera with an ice-cold, precise intent reminiscent of David Fincher at his best. But THE EMPTY MAN wraps its narrative around itself. To use an old cliché, it's best not to go into the film knowing much about its plot. (Refreshingly, it's an ambitious genre film that avoids the pitfalls of "elevated horror.") But it quickly departs from the "teens disappear and/or get killed after calling up a curse" premise into something much weirder. Both Prior's distance from his character - James Badge Dale is most often framed in an isolated long shot - and plot details that seem intended simply to lay out Dale's background pay off thematically. 20th-Century Fox/Disney correctly surmised that the average mainstream American moviegoer would find this incomprehensible and kept it on the shelf for at least two years.
Ironically, the finale might spell things out too clearly. However, that doesn't negate its more thoughtful virtues. Dale has gotten typecast as authority figures, and here he plays a former cop. The film ponders the nature of performance, especially when it involves playing such macho figures in cinema and real life, and comes up with some ideas on what makes a person an empty man. Future cult movie for sure.

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