The Empty Man is a horror thriller directed by David Pryor and based on the comic book of the same name by Vanessa R. Del Rey and Cullen Bunn. Screenplay written by David Pryor himself. Filming began back in 2017, the premiere was scheduled for August 20, but was postponed due to the coronavirus. As a result, the release took place in December, but the film did not have much success, and critics spoke about it extremely ambiguously.
In the exposition of the film, the director takes us to 1995 in the picturesque mountains of Bhutan. Four American tourists go on trips for new experiences. Along the way, they meet Buddhist monks, an abandoned temple and a bridge across the abyss. Only one of the tourists, Paul, boldly walks across the bridge, and therefore, on the other side, he hears a strange sound, reminiscent of the whistle of an empty bottle. Walking towards the sound, he finds himself in a crevice, where there is a skeleton of a strange creature with twenty fingers and eight arms. Companions take the guy out of the cave in a state of total trance, but on the third day, Paul’s wife, who fell under the silent influence, kills her friends, and she herself throws herself into the abyss.
The action then takes a turn to the story of former police officer James Lasombra. A retired cop mourns his wife and child in a road accident on a bridge. After the disappearance of his neighbor’s daughter, he decides to sort out this complicated case on his own. The investigation leads him to the strange organization “Pontifex Institute”, which turns out to be an underground cult whose adherents worship the Hollow Man.
The Empty Man appears at the beginning as a city horror story: if you stand on the bridge after sunset and make a sound from an empty bottle, then the Empty Man will come to you. On the first day you will hear it, on the second day you will see it, on the third day you will feel it. After the third day, according to legend, people die.
Throughout the film, this horror story acquires more and more sinister meanings. The empty man is not just a ghost, but, according to the cultists, absolute truth, transmitting to them mental messages from nothingness itself. To transmit its ideas, the entity needs an antenna – a person whom the cultists call a “bridge”. The image of the bridge is the main one in the film, since all the main actions take place on bridges, and the name of the organization “Pontifex” is translated as “bridge”. The pontiff in Rome is called a person who is the conductor of the will of God.
An investigation into the disappearance of a neighbor’s daughter leads the Lasombra to a strange camp, where the hero finds a video of the monster’s 13th incarnation. In the video, a half-human half-ghost draws a figure on fire on the wall with his blood and entrails. After the former cop begins to pursue children-cultists, and he has to flee.
In the plot, the motif of the unreality of what is happening obsessively appears from everywhere. Seeing the children’s ritual blurs the policeman’s reality for a few seconds. Amanda, the daughter of a neighbor, speaks about the illusory nature of the environment, and the words are written on her wall on a sticker: “You don’t need anything. Nothing is everything. If there is no you and no me, how can you and I exist? On one of the cards, the policeman sees the word “Tulpa”, which only makes sense at the end of the movie.
The director is trying to take the viewer into the philosophical jungle, quoting Nietzsche and talking about the noosphere. But the only thing we need to know of everything in order to understand the meaning of what is happening is that only non-existence is real. It was this idea that the protagonist of the film felt in his own skin. His dramatic line is that he felt a great sense of guilt towards his son and wife for the fact that at the time of their death he cheated on his wife with a neighbor who had just lost her husband.
But the whole reflection of the hero and his internal contradictions turn out to be unreal in the end, because at the end of the film he learns that his entire biography is a script invented by cult members. He is their product, the tulpa is a human materialized by the power of thought, whose only goal is to be the new incarnation of the Hollow Man, since the old body of Paul (the tourist at the beginning of the film) wears out and can no longer transmit messages.
A turn to the complete unreality of the life of James Lasombra, whose last name is translated from Spanish as “ghost, shadow, gloom”, the director’s only spectacular move. Otherwise, The Empty Man is a typical horror that does not inspire serious anxiety, but makes you think about the meaning of non-existence in our lives and the presence of illusions in the usual human beliefs.