The Empty Man a Chilling Supernatural Thriller That Deserved a Better Fate

The COVID-19 global pandemic didn’t cancel a lot of plans in 2020 – it pretty much cancelled all plans. Studios all but delayed most major releases as the world went into lockdown. Major movies saw their release dates re-shuffled. And some movies just got buried and forgotten about as they were discarded onto VOD and streaming platforms later in the year. One of those movies was The Empty Man – based on a graphic novel by Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey – which 20th Century Fox dumped into theaters late in October. For some reason, critics and audiences really didn’t like this supernatural horror movie. Just a few years later and horror fans have already begun re-evaluating The Empty Man.


A year has passed since his wife and son’s tragic deaths and former police detective James Lasombra is still struggling with their loss. When his neigbhour and friend’s high school daughter, Amanda, goes missing, James puts aside grieving to help. What he quickly finds is a strange cult that worships an entity called ‘The Empty Man’ – the same urban legend Amanda and her friends claimed to have out to.

The Empty Man Effectively Blends Genres into an Compelling Mystery

On its surface, The Empty Man looks like a derivative take on past ‘urban legend‘ movies, like The Slender Man or The Tall Man, with bits of The Ring weaved into its ‘three day’ story structure. But writer and director David Prior that looks and feels completely different. It’s unfortunately those comparisons may have drawn because Prior’s directorial debut has so much more to offer than just a Creepypasta retread. In fact, The Empty Man immediately benefits from its ambiguous story-structure and focus on mythology. That opening prologue in the Ura Valley of Bhutan completely contrasts with the movie’s promotional materials. Yet it also slowly introduces bits of the thriller’s main mysteries around its title character.

It’s unfortunately those comparisons may have drawn because Prior’s directorial debut has so much more to offer than just a Creepypasta retread.

From that point onward, The Empty Man methodically introduces more elements of its mystery that initially move away from the supernatural. When the story jumps forward and introduces us to the burned out James, Prior teases more of a noir crime drama with bits of ‘killer cult‘ thriller mixed in. As supernatural elements jump back into the story, The Empty Man should have most viewers hooked to at least see where things go. Perhaps the finale gets a bit too twisty with its trippy and admittedly vague tulpa concept. Regardless Prior does an excellent job of dropping breadcrumbs across the movie. Yes, the ending gets a bit metaphysical but it holds up to scrutiny.

The Empty Man is Frequently Scary, Consistently Haunting

In addition to its compelling story and mythology, The Empty Man works as just a plain creepy horror movie. Almost immediately, Prior establishes a nihilistic atmosphere that effortlessly blends in a handful of well-constructed scares. The scenes in the Ura Valley have a sense of dread hanging over them. And the skeletal frame of what one assumes is ‘The Empty Man’ is genuinely unsettling. Since Prior limits the thriller’s violence, when those scenes do pop up, they are appropriately shocking. And there are at least two standout scenes including one of James’ nightmarish images of the title character bolting towards him down a hallway. But the later fire ritual scene may be one of the best constructed set-ups and jolts in this thriller.

Since Prior limits the thriller’s violence, when those scenes do pop up, they are appropriately shocking.

Even if you’re not entirely on board for the ideas that underlie the finale, Prior crafts such a hopeless tone in the final act that most viewers should walk away feeling a little on edge. While he’s played supporting roles in an expansive range of movies, James Badge Dale (Lord of the Flies, Hold the Dark) takes centerstage in The Empty Man as the grieving former detective, ‘James Lasombra’. On one hand, Jason Lasombra feels like a character stitched together from tropes. Nonetheless, Dale adds some charisma to the weathered character that occasionally adds a bit of dry humor to the thriller. Look for the always good but underrated Stephen Root (Red State) in a small but critical role.

The Empty Man Deserves Horror Fans’ Re-Consideration

Maybe audiences just weren’t in the mood for nihilistic horror in the midst of a global pandemic. Fortunately, The Empty Man is finally earning the audience appreciation it very much deserves. Yes, it runs on much longer than necessary – few movies can justify a runtime in excess of two hours. And perhaps the twist ending is a bit convoluted or just a little too abstract. Everything else about this supernatural horror movie – from its mythology to the scares – works extremely well. When the recent emphasis of studios is on intellectual property and franchises, The Empty Man is one of the most refreshing entries in the horror genre in recent memory.


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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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