You know what I did recently? I had a friend over to my place… and neither of us wore our masks! Scandalous, I know. He was one of the Movie Night guys, and the fact that we haven’t had one of those in over a year is really getting to us. It was a thing we did every week for over a decade! But it was nice to have someone over watching a horror movie with me, even if we were as far apart as possible while not sitting on the floor. Anyway, we watched The Empty Man on his recommendation, and it was a fun experience all around.
The first time he mentioned it to me, I looked up the trailer almost instantly. My impression was that it looked like a film along the lines of The Bye Bye Man where teens are stalked and killed by an urban legend monster. You find a bottle, blow into it, think about him, and in three days you’re dead. It looked a little better than The Bye Bye Man, but that’s a very, very low bar. One comment on the YouTube page stood out to me, though…
That’s a little weird, right? I had no idea what any of that meant, so I shared it with my friend (who had already seen it) to see if it made sense to him. Oh yes, it absolutely did, which piqued my curiosity.
So the movie is about a man named James Lasombra (Mr. James Badge Dale) investigating the disappearance of a friend’s daughter. Ha, I said to my friend, his last name is the same as the Vampire: the Masquerade clan that controls shadows. My friend has a horrible poker face, so while saying something along the lines of, “Oh, weird,” his eyes let on that this would make perfect sense later. Okay, maybe not “perfect,” but questions of what’s real are central to the film. What starts out as an investigating into a missing teen quickly becomes a dive into questions on the nature of reality as a whole. Spoilers coming in the next paragraph.
So James isn’t real. Or maybe he is? It turns out that there is an organization that is receiving communications from somewhere beyond our reality through a man in a coma. An empty man, if you will. But the flesh is weak; the coma man is dying, and it was something like 500 years between the previous Empty Man and the current one, so finding a replacement is a major goal of this group. The cult claims that James is a tulpa, an entity they created through shared belief. His dead wife and kid? Supposedly they never existed outside of what appears to be stock photos. His connection to the woman with the missing teen? She has no idea who he is by the end of the film, and not in the “I don’t know who you are anymore” way. James is a shadow of a person, and whether he accepts becoming the new Empty Man is left intentionally vague, just as I like it.
So what is the Empty Man, exactly? The movie suggests it’s something like a Lovecraftian elder being that connects to our world on rare occasions, but the comic has other ideas. Oh yes, this was based off a comic book. There the Empty Man is a guy with immense psychic potential stuck in a coma, trapped in a nightmare world of his own imagination. Through a preacher he has converted through his mental powers, he’s spreading his perception of what he thinks is reality onto the world, leading to bizarre violent acts and the manifestation of shadowy spider creatures. The public is very aware of what authorities call the Empty Man virus for lack of understanding. Eventually it’s revealed that the Empty Man is as old as humanity itself and is diametrically opposed to free will. Both the movie and the comic versions have heavy supernatural and otherworldly elements, but the source of the Empty Man is a bit of a departure. And I get it–showing a world turned upside down by supernatural violence is easier in a comic, while a slow burning mystery is easy to film. On one hand we have an extradimensional being trying to enter our world and the shadowy conspiracy/cult that aids him, and the other we have a supernatural plague turning the entire world upside down. I don’t know which one I like more!
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