David Prior’s The Empty Man

It’s rare for a horror film to exceed an hour and a half runtime these days, and if it does it better be something unexpected, captivating and unique. David Prior’s The Empty Man is two and a half hours and not only stands as the best film I’ve seen so far this year but also the scariest horror to come my way since Hereditary and It Follows before that. It’s also one of the most ambitious, ‘out there’ films in terms of high concept in the same way that, for example, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness was, another bonkers, reach for the sky horror gem that went well over the two hour mark. First off, ignore the title, trailer and any of the surprisingly scant marketing that might make this out to be another ‘Slender Man’, ‘Bye Bye Man’ or any other cheapie gimmick piece that caters to teens. This is not your garden variety, jump scare laden, watered down young adult fright flick, it’s dark, complex, philosophical, disquieting and altogether soul disturbing. Before the opening title even appears we are treated to an atmospheric, twenty minute opening act set somewhere in the Tibetan mountains sometime in the 90’s, where four ill fated hikers have an encounter with something… well, something so old there’s no name for it in any language we speak. Flash forward to Illinois 2018 where we follow ex cop turned private investigator James Lasombra (James Badge Dale) as he tries to find the missing daughter of a family friend who got mixed up in a spooky urban legend. That’s all I’m going to get into in terms of plot specifics because every viewer deserves to be led down this terrifying breadcrumb trail of a narrative with unspoiled eyes. Badge Dale is a great actor, one who somehow manages to simultaneously subvert and uphold the Hollywood tough guy image with his own charisma, his reactions and methods of finding information are really fascinating to watch from an acting standpoint. What he does find is some of the weirdest shit you’ll ever see in a movie, and some of it so unsettling I almost got up and stood in the hallway of the theatre for a few minutes to decompress. I also saw The Empty Man in an Empty Theatre, I was literally the only person to buy a ticket and that decidedly added to the spook factor. Aside from being fucking scary as all hell, this is a truly intriguing story with imagination, innovation and so many unpredictable surprises it can sometimes feel like a patchwork quilt of ideas, motifs and thematic material stitched together, albeit in a very fluid and naturally flowing way. There’s shades of Lovecraft, references to Nietzsche and other philosophical ideals and even sly references to everything from The Wicker Man to Blair Witch to the Donner Pass Incident to many forms of demonic lore. It’s too bad they barely marketed it and just sort of lobbed it into theatres with nary a whisper of trailers, posters or internet ads beforehand because no one has heard of it d I wouldn’t even have either unless it was recommended to me in a frenzy of enthusiasm, but it deserves to be sought out and, if it’s playing near you and you feel safe, demands to be seen on the big screen. If you like your horror wild, wooly, whacked out, fucked up and worthy of eccentric cult status, this is your bet. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

-Nate Hill

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