MoviesMixed (Divisive)

The Empty Man (2020) – Review/ Summary (with Spoilers)

Community Rating: 60.18% (20)

A horror movie that is nearly 2 and a half hours – is it worth your time or should you avoid it?


Director(s)David Prior
Screenplay ByDavid Prior
Date Released (Theatrical)10/23/2020
Genre(s)Action, Crime, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Duration2 hours, 17 Minutes
RatingRated R
Noted Cast
AmandaSasha Frolova
JamesJames Badge Dale
NoraMarin Ireland
PaulAaron Poole
DavoraSamantha Logan

This content contains pertinent spoilers.

Plot Summary

After the disappearance of a young girl named Amanda, a neighbor and family friend named James, a former detective, as a favor to Amanda’s mother, Nora, investigates what happened to her daughter. Thus leading to him learning about the almost holy figure known as “The Empty Man.”

Character Guide

Amanda (Sasha Frolova)

Amanda (Sasha Frolova) introducing The Empty Man game
Amanda (Sasha Frolova)

A high school girl who introduces her friends to The Empty Man and goes missing within days of the introduction.

James (James Badge Dale)

A 42-year-old former cop who finds himself going from selling spy and self-defense equipment to becoming a private investigator to help find Amanda.

Nora (Marin Ireland)

Nora is a widow, and Amanda’s mom, who currently doesn’t work, so all she does is worry about Amanda – who she thought she was close to.

Paul (Aaron Poole)

In 1995, his trip to Bhutan with three friends sets in motion all we see in the movie.

Davara (Samantha Logan)

One of Amanda’s friends who seemed like she would join James in his investigation, until fate decided otherwise.

Review

Highlights

It’s Creepy

While there are minimal jump scares, from the score to the general tone the movie has throughout, there is this eeriness. The kind where, if the movie didn’t have the issues noted below, the time length would be nothing. If anything, similar to the newest incarnation of IT, you’d be entertained throughout rather than always waiting for that moment when the film gets out of its own way.

Dale Makes It Comical

Dale, who we recently saw starring in STARZ’s Hightown, proves he is leading man material simply by helping you make it through this movie without desiring to walk out. Mind you, it isn’t necessarily his detective skills, but more so these random comical moments when it becomes clear he isn’t like any other private detective. And it is when he says “F*** this” when things clearly are getting too weird, you see the film take itself less seriously, and you get glimmers of hope. If not, writer/director David Prior trying to tap into what Dale could have given being star presence.

Low Points

It Tries To Be Cerebral and Ends Up Convoluted In The Worst Way Possible

So, rather than do like most horror movies and make The Empty Man some weird horror figure you call on that, within three days, kills you or makes you kill yourself, they build a religion around them. One which gets explained to levels that feel so unnecessary for a horror film – especially one released when there is a dearth of horror due to the pandemic.

I’m talking about a Scientology-like church being introduced, you having to hear a sermon, and there being so many levels to how they work, how Amanda is involved, and answers to questions you didn’t even ask because you didn’t care enough.

How Disposable Most Characters Are Made To Be

But what might be the real kicker here is that James is the only character from the trailer you’ll consistently see. The rest? Well, SPOILERS, either die or are barely in the film. Not only that, they get written off pretty early so if you were hoping to get to know the teens in the trailer, sorry. I mean, you get some nudity from Samantha Logan, but it is the kind of nudity that feels unnecessary.

Not to harp on it but, why is a high school student going to a spa by herself? It is noted she is a jock but, who was paying for her to go to that fancy spa, and was the whole point of that just to have some tantalization to hopefully get the audience back? Because it added nothing to the story.

Overall

Rating: Mixed (Divisive)

While creepy, and Dale as James is ace casting, The Empty Man struggles to be a more serious and complex horror movie than what is usually released. But in trying to be more than a horror film with a mysterious monster, creepy scene, and some random nudity to cause a double-take, you understand why keeping it simple is often used when developing anything, movies included. Because, after a certain point, there comes the question of who was this movie made for and why was it advertised for an audience that may not appreciate the final product?

Hence the mixed label. The Empty Man had potential, but its story drowned out that potential by trying to do far more than necessary.

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Ending Explained

James (James Badge Dale) coming face to face with The Empty Man
James (James Badge Dale)

Let’s flesh things out here, for there is a lot to detail for this to make sense. James and Nora, Amanda’s mom, were having an affair, and on the night of the funeral for Amanda’s died, who died of heart disease, James and Nora had sex. On that same night, James’ wife and son died, and that seemingly sent him into a downward spiral. This needs to be noted since Amanda claims to have known about the affair, and it could be part of the reason she and others “created” James, or rather a duplicate of the James she knew, in order to be the new host for The Empty Man.

Try to stay with us since, even with watching the movie, there came points where it was like, of the things you could have explained better, that could have been fleshed out. Okay, still with us? Well, from what we see, The Empty Man might have been trapped in the mountains of Bhutan, but thanks to a man named Paul, who accidentally discovers him in 1995, alongside his friends taking him away from The Empty Man’s temple, Paul eventually finds himself back in the United States.

Now, as for how Paul, who was barely functioning, went from Bhutan back to America and explained his friends and girlfriend dying, without any issues? That isn’t explained. We just time jump to 2018, Missouri, and apparently Paul has been made into a holy figure with a whole church, the Pontiflex Institute, built up around him. But, with Paul’s body no longer able to maintain The Empty Man and produce manifestations, of which there have been at least 14, it was determined a new host was needed – hence James.

So, Amanda, who was drawn into Paul’s church, and has seemingly become a recruiter, creates a new James since he holds all that is necessary to hold The Empty Man. Leading to, rather than James dying like so many others who have called upon The Empty Man, consuming him, James killing Paul, and not becoming the Pontiflex Institute’s new deity. But, unlike Paul, James is still mobile after The Empty Man enters him.

Does The Empty Man Have Sequel Potential?

Technically yes, since how The Empty Man racks a person’s brain could be explored, never mind Paul’s journey and the Institute’s rise. But should a sequel be produced? Nope.

It's Creepy - 85%
Dale Makes It Comical - 83%
It Tries To Be Cerebral and Ends Up Convoluted In The Worst Way Possible - 62%
How Disposable Most Characters Are Made To Be - 64%

74%

The Empty Man had potential, but its story drowned out that potential by trying to do far more than necessary.

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Amari Allah

I started Wherever I Look back in 2011 and from movies, TV, the occasional book, play, and Broadway show, have been trying to bridge the gap between a critic and an avid lover of various forms of media.

3 Comments

  1. What I was kind of confused was how it all happened? What if James was never a person at all? Like in the part where Amanda was telling him how she “created him”, what if he wasn’t someone at all. He was almost a figment of her imagination, and his? I have no idea if that makes sense, because I’m still trying to figure out the movie in my head… That’s what was weird to me… After he called Nora and she had no idea who was on the phone, what if he was a ghost who was stuck and she was able to find him? Especially when he walked in his house and nothing was there. He didn’t know what was real life and what wasn’t because he was never apart of real life. If that makes sense?????

  2. The idea that you take issue with brief nudity, over everything else, is laughable. What’s wrong with a little bit of nudity? Feels like a throwback to the horror movies of old. There’s nothing wrong with a little T&A in an R-rated horror flick. The fact that you lingered on this point makes me feel like you oppose the idea of female nudity, or consider yourself so “woke” that it is impossible for a movie to contain nudity unless it contributes to the plot in some way.

    That aside, I still have no idea what the hell this movie was about, even after reading your “spoiler” section. How did they “create” a new James? What happened to old James? I thought they just manipulated him into being their puppet somehow. There are so many plot holes in this movie and I haven’t been able to find a single satisfying explanation. The ending makes it feel like there is this epic conclusion tying up all the loose ends, but nothing about it really makes sense. I’m so pissed off that this is the one horror movie in theaters right now.

    1. I think the issue with us when it comes to the nudity is the film seemingly used the teens as a bait and switch and while, yes, you could see it as a throwback to horror movies of yore, at the same time “The Empty Man” seems so badly to want to be a more serious and convoluted movie that the nudity seemed to be in place purely to appease or keep the attention of those expecting a monster flick. So while Samantha Logan has a beautiful body, at the same time it isn’t a matter of being “woke” and thinking nudity needs to contribute to the plot. More so, it is the recognition that with her having a nude scene out there, even if it just showed her from the back and waist up, that’s forever. The whole world now has access to what she looks like underneath her clothes and it being done for a movie like this? To liven it up before it sends you down a rabbit hole? It just seemed like a waste.

      As for creating “New James” and what happened to the old one, Amanda vaguely explains it, hence how confusing the whole thing is. The way we took it, James was “created” through Amanda allegedly setting him up. Which implies that, from her mother’s affair and maybe James’ wife and son dying, she played a hand. All of this was to create immense negative emotions for it allows The Empty Man to be more powerful or more comfortable in its new host. And because of Amanda’s ego and the influence the church has on her, I think she sees herself as creating James rather than there being an old and new James.

      This is an adaptation so maybe the source material explains things better but at least there is “Come Play” coming out this weekend.

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