Saturday, August 21, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Empty Man

The Empty Man
directed by David Prior
This is a horror movie that initially gives the viewer the impression that it's like any number of hundreds of other horror movies in which people-usually sex crazed teens-summon an evil spirit by foolishly performing some stupid ritual. 
Maybe they chant a demon's name five times while looking in a mirror. Maybe they sacrifice an animal in a graveyard. Maybe they play spin the bottle or truth or dare in an abandoned church. Maybe they read cuneiform or hieroglyphics in some ancient Iraqi or Egyptian tomb. 
Maybe they open up a locked book with warnings written in blood that state "You big dummy! Yes you! Do not open this book under any circumstances!!" In any event after the people do whatever stupid thing they do, they usually die in horrible ways, often while having sex, trying to have sex, or thinking about having sex. 
Along the way the few group members with functioning brain cells find a mentor who can advise them or stop by a library or church to discover what happened the last time someone did something so stupid and if the older stupid people survived. Usually there's a final confrontation where Mr. or Miss Smarty Pants defeats whatever evil was set loose but often not before losing someone valuable to him or her. 
Or in a move that once subverted expectations but now fulfills them, the good guy/girl only thinks they've won. 
Maybe during the credits or after them we see that the evil is not defeated or the final survivor is shown to be now carrying the evil inside of himself/herself. 
The Empty Man might have been a better movie in terms of entertainment had it stuck to that formula. Instead it reaches for more ambitious heights. One theme that is often found in Western, particularly Christian fantasy/horror stories, is that Evil is essentially unproductive, nameless, nihilistic and knows it. 
In Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind In the Door, the fallen angels or Echthroi seek to destroy all creation by unnaming people, making them forget who they are. In The Book of Joby, Satan wants God to erase all creation if Satan can successfully cause Joby to throw away his faith. 
In the C.S. Lewis book That Hideous Strength, which appears to be the most apparent influence for this story, Satanic entities hide behind science and progress to destroy human emotions and humanity itself. 
Even in Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea, which otherwise consciously rejects many Western tropes, the forces of Evil can't be confronted and defeated until they are named.

In small town Missouri there is a local legend that if you blow into an empty bottle on an empty bridge then you will summon the entity known as The Empty Man. 
On the following days you will hear The Empty Man, see The Empty Man, and then finally be found by The Empty Man. 
What happens next is partially shown in a flashback which opens the film. Jim Lasombra (James Dale) is a former detective, now security guard, who is processing some grief and guilt over the deaths of his wife and son in an auto accident. 
So when his girlfriend Nora's (Marin Ireland) daughter Amanda (Sasha Frolova) disappears, leaving cryptic messages about The Empty Man on a bathroom mirror, Jim is eager to find Amanda and prevent Nora from knowing the pain of losing a child. 
Jim's investigation leads him to a strange group called The Pontifex Institute. Arthur Parsons (Stephen Root) presides over this, well, cult, and knows more about Jim than he ought to know. And Jim starts seeing things.
I appreciated that the movie tried to be more intelligent and a little deeper than the run of the mill supernatural slasher film. It didn't work because the movie was way too long. Also the movie jumped back and forth between themes too much. One minute it's a somber treatise on the nature of reality, good, and evil. The next it's jump scares and blood and guts. Unfortunately none of the actors/actresses had the charisma to make me interested in what happened to them.
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