A common theme throughout this entire marathon has been centered on cult films. Ones that have been recognized as such after the fact. That’s the funny thing about time. No one ever knows when anything could reach that status. Maybe it’s destiny that people will come around to it and go, “Hey, that was pretty good looking back at it.”
The Empty Man is fascinating for this reason. Released back in 2020 to a very underwhelming reception critically and financially, it seemed like this film would disappear from the common consciences of the average person. The way its theatrical release was handled would make one think this way. It was only in cinemas for around a day and, as of writing, does not even have a physical media release. The only legal way to watch The Empty Man is through streaming.
But what’s so surprising is realizing just how much freedom director David Prior. Having been given all the money in the world and the approval to do whatever he wanted, Prior’s film is very inspiring for anyone itching to get into the world of filmmaking without the deterrent of too much dulling supervision by the studio or distribution company.
It’s hard to assess just how The Empty Man will be viewed years from now. The film is quite ambitious, almost to a fault. Tackling concepts like the meaning of one’s existence and what such a thing even means in the first place. Presented on a scale that is very much unexpected. Make no mistakes; this thankfully isn’t just another rendition of other poor supernatural films in the vein of The Bye Bye Man or Slender Man. Prior has much more respect for his audience than that.
I still don’t understand everything myself, even after taking time to comprehend my viewing experience fully. But it certainly leaves plenty of breadcrumbs for various interpretations or maybe none at all. In the most bare-bones descriptions of the narrative, it might seem rather straightforward. But the way it’s all presented keeps the viewer in a state of unclarity. At various points in the film, parts of the screen start to fade. An intentional contrast to the rest of the image in the frame. Buildings or objects get distorted. Little details go a long way in crafting a one-of-a-kind experience.
The risk of letting the film tread on the thin line of ambiguity so much is those narrative elements may not fully connect into one cohesive whole. For me, there’s enough information given to create something of a bigger picture, but other viewers may not be so willing to go along with a film that’s saying, “I’m doing what I want to the 10th degree, and if you snooze, you lose.” I can’t decide how you will feel about this if you ever decide this watch the film, and I can’t go further without going into spoilers, so how to register the narrative will be simply on your terms.
Part of what made The Empty Man a fun watch comes through in the film’s leading man. James Badge Dale’s ex-detective could make for a very bland main character, but Dale adds enough charisma and humor that made him enjoyable to go along this ride. While also adding a very prominent edge of grief that haunts the character throughout the film.
It’s also evident that just by watching it is that there was plenty of money and effort that went into the production. From the way scenes transition between each other to the stunning cinematography, Prior used everything at his disposal to elevate his vision. The unsettling score by Christopher Young and Lustmord also comes very much appreciated.