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Cinematic Releases: The Empty Man (2020) - Reviewed

Posted By themoviesleuth 834 days ago on Entertainment - The graphic novel has generally made for some incredible and daring big screen cinema or televised adaptations over the last decade, including but not limited to A History of Violence and Oldboy.  Nine times out of ten a hit comes out of the illustrated book form.  In the case of The Empty Man, however, based on the Boom! Studios graphic novel of the same name by writer Cullen Bunn and artist Vanesa R. Del Rey, the film which came of it was completed in 2017 only to sit on the shelf for another three years before being dumped into empty theaters in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.   What happened here?  On the surface it looks like another modern supernatural thriller about an ex-cop named James (James Badge Dale) still coping with witnessing the death of his wife and son who stumbles upon a mercurial occult group attempting to summon a demon.  Upon diving into the film itself, this is without question one of the weirdest, most labyrinthine cinematic rail jumpers in recent memory that is easy to see why studio heads got cold feet upon first looking at it.  Running at a startlingly long 137 minutes with more detours and red herrings than Under the Silver Lake with the rug yanked out from under the viewer more than once, this is a film that takes many chances but doesn’t always succeed or deliver.  Part of the problem is that it condenses the series of graphic novels into one piece and one must wonder if the endeavor might have been fleshed out more successfully as a television miniseries.   The Empty Manisn’t without its merits, boasting an evocative and disturbing soundtrack co-written by Hellraiser legend Christopher Young and Lustmord.  The score frankly sounds a lot like Akira Yamaoka’s nerve-jangling score for the Silent Hill videogames which I suppose fits considering the surreal nature of this film.  Visually the film sports a lot of scenic beauty and expertly rendered tracking shots while other times the camera resorts to distorting the space with fish eyed lenses.  Performances are fine though James Badge Dale despite being a good character actor may or may not be leading man material.  It doesn’t help that a brief cameo by Stephen Root manages to steal the whole show.    While the film is laudable for pushing such strange ideas and narrative concepts that don’t always make clear sense into the mainstream, the film itself is bloated and tends to meander towards its bleak conclusion.  Yes there are worthy ideas here and the graphic novel is well worth reading.  Let it be known this is director David Prior’s first feature, having mostly worked in making-of documentaries for David Fincher.  To go from behind-the-scenes documentaries to mounting your own feature film are very different endeavors and while it can be done, one wonders after viewing the mess that is The Empty Man whether or not Prior made the right choice.  The film is indeed fascinating but I’m hard pressed to agree whether or not the thing actually “works”.--Andrew Kotwicki (function() { var zergnet = document.createElement('script'); zergnet.type = 'text/javascript'; zergnet.async = true; zergnet.src = (document.location.protocol == "https:" ? "https:" : "http:") + '//'; var znscr = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; znscr.parentNode.insertBefore(zergnet, znscr); })();

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