'The Empty Man' Review
Following the cursed trend of movies acquired by Disney that were shot many years ago (other examples being 'Underwater', 'The New Mutants' and 'Wendy') just to see light of day now is David Prior's The Empty Man, an adaptation of horror comic books sharing the name. After a prologue where four American hikers explore Bhutan in 1995 just to come across some abnormalities that give context to later events, we find a former cop James Lasombra (James Badge Dale) begin to investigate a disappearance of his friend Nora's (Marin Ireland) 18-year-old daughter Amanda (Sasha Frolova) in which there might be a cult and some supernatural spirits involved. These things offer a lot of interesting territory to explore but when something desperately lacks style and perspective in several areas, much of it doesn't play well enough to work.
Above-mentioned first part of Bhutan escapades is a great example of how ambitious the film actually is because that part is probably around 30 minutes on its own, even stylistically it is a separate story altogether. Then the title card hits the screen and we're off to Lasombra's story which is a hard left turn that I personally appreciate, especially in big studio horror features, as the survival horror turns into a crime thriller momentarily. Going more in depth to that shift would require some spoiler talk as far as the plot itself goes but to dance around a bit, the movie sets up these things and investigations so nicely that it's awfully annoying how the payoff is always way below the needed level. In many cases we're constantly in a new location which really highlights Craig Lathrop's production design work, buildings and sets are icky and funereal in the best way possible which is crucial for horror atmosphere to stick around for the whopping 130 minutes of runtime.
As much as there is some truly killer stuff here, there is also so much filler. The main problem that the film has is that there is no true distinct voice in Prior's leadership or in the way that would make sure the quality of back-to-back scenes would stay above the threshold. Pretty much all the actors just seem to waltzing around from mark to mark and from location A to location B and whenever there are conversations, you can feel them just reading lines and waiting for the other one to finish theirs. Scenes lack emotion, reactions and purpose to make us care about anyone or where they end up. That's why there are whole sequences that just seem to go on and on as you sit there and wait for Lasombra to figure out even one mystery. Lacking emotionality or sense of fear is also affected by the uneven lighting of spaces where you can't distinguish eyes, props or even any writing. Your eyes aren't directed by the director or the visuals to focus on anything specific happening on the screen which is a shame because the potential is there.
Smileys: Production design, structure
Frowneys: Lighting, directing, pacing
I don't think we get to see an emptier or the emptiest man based on how this was dumped by the studio.