Directed by David Prior
Starring: James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland, Sasha Frolova, Ron Canada, Joel Courtney, Stephen Root
Runtime: 137 Minutes
Rating: R (for violence, disturbing images, language, some sexuality and nudity)
The good news about this week’s review is how LOW the bar was set after Buddy Games. This was another toss-up for me on which film to see. Originally I was going to watch The Santa Clause starring Tim Allen. It’s of course a classic and currently playing in theaters. With this year being a whirlwind it has been “nice” to review retro films from time to time. However, this would not be one of those weeks. Looking through the showtimes in Portsmouth and other cities nothing caught my eye until I saw that The Empty Man was still playing. I had originally planned to watch this in October but I ended up reviewing Hocus Pocus instead. The film is based on a graphic novel published by Boom! Studies. I didn’t realize this until after the film and watching it this makes sense. Also in full disclosure I was on a date. Dating during Covid…our options are VERY limited. I asked for a quote after the movie. She gave me three words “Totally Mind Blown.”
Onto the film.
Of course we open with eerie “horror” movie music that we’ve become accustomed too. However, the opening of this film was vastly different than most we’ve watched lately. We start with four hikers in Bhutan traversing up a mountain top. I was immediately confused. I asked Rachel if we were in the right theater….we were. We then get 20 minutes of the opening of this film. One of the hikers encounters a “shrine” and becomes possessed. We then get the title scene and EVENTUALLY we cut to 2018. The cold opening was a nice touch, however this made the issues of shifting in tone a common occurrence.
The plot for this one is simple, and a tad cliché. We have a former cop named James Lasombra (Dale) who agrees to look for a missing girl named Amanda (Frolova.) He’s haunted by demons from his past. Simple enough right. There is more to come. Trust me. I immediately had problems with the film as it flip-flopped between a rushed plot and boring one. In the beginning we meet Amanda and see her interact with James but it’s rushed and doesn’t allow for the audience to develop any emotional weight to the character. Without having that time with this pivotal character I found myself not caring about if she is found or not.
We then learn the about the urban legend of the Empty Man and this reminded me of the movie Candyman. You may have seen that film. With Candyman you had to say his name 3 times and he would appear. With Empty Man you must be on a bridge after dark, blow into a bottle (whistling sound) and think of him or it. That is all of the rules for this week’s monster. We then cut to another film it seemed. We follow a group of high school students who OF COURSE have summoned the Empty Man and start to get killed off. One by one. This storyline ties into the main plot to find Amanda, but it still felt like a completely different film. We then cut back to our sole focus of the mystery at hand……Then it gets weird. Really weird.
There were several high points in this film that need to be mentioned. The acting is a-plus. Our lead played by James Badge Dale is likeable and even funny at times. He really carries this film and the supporting cast around him work well in their respective roles. A few characters, I turned to look at my date and said “That person is WEIRD.” There were several jump scares, if that’s your thing, and the CGI was surprisingly good. The shots in Bhutan looked great as well. I doubt they filmed there but you couldn’t tell. Also the deaths were shocking and showed again why the CGI works.
However, we have a few areas that hurt this film. It was WAY too long. We clocked in at almost 2 and a half hours. I mentioned at times the plot dragged on and feel there are several scenes that could have been cut completely to speed things up. Most importantly my frustration stems from the movie shifting what it wants to be constantly. We start with the hikers, then finding Amanda, high schoolers being attacked, back to Amanda, then utter chaos. It’s hard to follow at times and lacks guidance. Pick what you are trying to do and run with that. Very rarely do I noticed when a movie shifts tone like this, but it happened 5 (I think) times. These critiques shouldn’t discourage you from going to see this film or ANY film that’s currently playing. We need to support local/small business. You also can’t beat the movie theater popcorn! Everyone please stay safe, social distance when possible, and mask up. Yes even on dates. 2 ½ stars out of 5
This writer’s opinion is their own and not the opinion of this newspaper