(director/writer: David Prior; screenwriters: based on a graphic novel by Culen Bunn; cinematographer: Anastas Michos; editor: David Prior/Andrew Buckland; music: Christopher Young/ Lustmord; cast:  James Badge Dale (James Lasombra), Stephen Root (Arthur Parsons), Joel Courtney (Brandon Maibaum), Sasha Froloya (Amanda Quail), Aaron Poole (Paul), Robert Aramayo (Garrett), Samantha Logan (Davara Walsh), Evan Jonigkeit (Greg), Marin Ireland (Nora Quail); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ross Rochie/Stephen Christy; Boom Studios/20th Century; 2020-USA/S. Africa/UK)

Empty is an apt way to describe this overlong and sluggish supernatural horror pic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Empty is an apt way to describe this overlong and sluggish supernatural horror pic. The ambitious film is striving to be avant-garde, but strains too much on its Lovecraft concept to get there. It’s written, directed and edited by David Prior, a video vet, and is based on the Cullen Bunn written and the Vanesa R. Del Rey illustrated graphic novel of the same name published by Boom! Studios.

The best scene is its opening one. It’s a sinister 23-minute prologue set in the mountains of Bhutan in 1995, where 4 hikers run into a weird force threatening them. One hiker falls off a cliff hearing whispers from the invisible entity but winds up alive in some cave, sitting in the lotus meditation position while facing a giant skeleton. The other hikers try for a rescue and stay at a nearby cabin, but their rescue runs into all sorts of problems.

In the next shot we’re at Webster Mills, Mo. in 2018. We’re introduced to the former cop turned security-store owner James Lasombra (James Badge Dale). As a hoot, the local school is called Jacques Derrida High School, which should get the attention of fans of  the French radical philosophical essayist. One local youth, Amanda Quail (Sasha Prolova), the daughter of James’ good friend and former lover, Nora (Marin Ireland), visits James’ place, where she tells everyone that she’s troubled and goes on a rant over some far-out philosophical platitudes. The next morning, she vanishes with a couple of her friends, leaving a reference to “The Empty Man” scrawled in blood in her room. This disappearance relates to the missing man in the Bhutan story.

Soon other local teens in town begin to mysteriously disappear. Local belief is that this is the work of the “Urban Legend” known as “The Empty Man.” As the retired cop Lasombra, with a dark past,  investigates and discovers through the tip from Davara (Samantha Logan), a secretive cult group could know about these disappearances. This discovery endangers the ex-cop’s  life and those close to him. As the legend has a warning that you only have 3 days to succeed: “On the first night you hear him, the second night you see him and the third night he finds you.”

20th Century Fox acquired the graphic novel The Empty Man from Boom! Studios for a feature film and after it merged with Disney, released it in theaters in October without any fanfare and as a result few viewers showed up.

It has some scenes that are most curious, some that are just dumb and some are merely enigmatic that become increasingly intricate and hallucinatory. I find it interesting in parts, but not holding up as a finished product–with a third act that just failed to work.

Bottle Feeding

REVIEWED ON 11/6/2020  GRADE: B-