“The Empty Man,” directed by David Prior, known for his research on horror films and myths, as well as his documentary work, is one of the ambitious horror films of the year. Based on Boom Studios’ comic book, the film’s foundation dates back to ancient times. However, the way the film translates this culture, rooted in a real subculture, into fear is not particularly successful. Although it starts with an intriguing pace that instills mystery in the audience, the film later becomes scattered and loses its intended destination. Despite having a strong underlying story, documentary filmmaker David Prior, in my opinion, misses the opportunity to succeed in his first fictional film through his own doing.
Let’s briefly touch on the plot… Four American youths are climbing mountains in a remote location far from their country, seeking adventure. Their adventure is disrupted when one of the members falls into a pit. The team realizes that their friends have entered some kind of trance while attempting to rescue them. Unable to wake their friends, the group manages to find a cabin and tries to spend the night there. However, none of them are aware of what awaits them. Whatever their fallen friend saw below, it is now with them. And they are on the verge of using it to open up to civilization.
The term “Empty Man” refers to a bridge builder or a man who communicates with God. In ancient times, people believed in the Empty Man and listened to his messages as if they were being delivered by “God.” The company we encounter in the film, Pontifex, represents the priesthood. Those who created the Empty Man and believed in him were once priests. The film tries to build a story based on bridges and priests, drawing its foundation from this concept. In the movie, the bridge is used as a means of proving courage. However, only brave individuals can cross the bridge and reach the Empty Man. Both the first climber and the first child in the city were individuals capable of summoning the Empty Man by demonstrating their courage. The climber proves his courage by being the “first” to cross the bridge, while the child demonstrates his courage by blowing into a bottle on the bridge. Once they prove their courage, they begin to receive messages from the Empty Man.
Naturally, one by one, the young individuals who dared to summon the Empty Man disappear. An ex-police officer, who happens to be a relative of one of the victims, tries to solve the case. The film starts off quickly, particularly in the mountain section, creating a promising sense of suspense, but unfortunately, it fails to deliver on its potential as it progresses. Beginning as a paranormal story, the film gradually transitions into psychological suspense, losing its entire “metaphysical” mystery and resorting to rational explanations. However, even those rational explanations are eventually undermined by an incomprehensible irrationality, leading the film to an ambiguous ending.
In essence, David Prior, unfortunately, fails to make the most of the opportunity in his first feature-length fictional film. The film, which starts off intriguingly, gradually descends into mediocrity. It begins to fill its paranormal structure with cults and rational explanations, only to add a twist to everything with its final act. Not only does the film lose its mystery, but it also slows down and becomes dreary, robbing the audience of enjoyment and leaving them perplexed as they exit the theater. I say theater, but it’s just a habit. Oh, how I wish we were still in theaters, even to endure tedious films.
Cast & Crew
director: David Prior
writers: David Prior
starring: James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland, Sasha Frolova, Samantha Logan, Evan Jonigkeit, Virginia Kull, Robert Aramayo
USA | 2020 | 137 MINUTES |