Kurdt’s review published on Letterboxd:
Fools you into thinking it’s just some crappy horror movie. With a title reminiscent of meme legend The Bye Bye Man, a generic poster, a January release, and even a relatively straight forward horror prologue about hikers coming into contact with some otherworldly force, this is just some forgettable, trashy garbage to laugh at right?
Then it drags you to hell.
I had perused this briefly a couple of weeks ago when it was among the new releases, assumed it was the exact sort of thing I described above, so ignored it and moved on. But then I randomly stumbled back onto the film’s Letterboxd page some days later and clicked director David Prior’s name. Wait, what’s this? A documentary about the making of The Social Network? And Zodiac? And Benjamin Button? Wait wait wait, you’re telling me this guy is friends and works with David Fincher, and now he’s made his own movie, not only that but a Fincher-esque psychological thriller, and nobody told me?! And nobody even seems to know about it?!
So naturally I watched this practically overflowing with excitement, thinking in the back of my mind I was setting myself up for a huge letdown, only for The Empty Man to turn out to be everything I had hoped for. Prior’s Fincher connection is real. The film is a wonder of dark atmospheric doom and slow-developing terror, taking the expected horror beats and mutating them into something fascinating, all enveloped by a demonic, play-this-when-the-world-ends score. Narratively it’s both clever but also great fun because it goes nowhere that you’d expect, twisting and cranking its narrative up to 11 and yet somehow getting away with it, becoming a film about how faith becomes ideology, and how seemingly the most benign, practically childish ideas can manifest into dangerous beliefs and be weaponised by powerful people.
Inexplicable that this is not a theatrically-released studio thriller with a big star front and centre. James Badge Dale is great as a broken ex-cop trying to piece everything together, don't get me wrong, but this is exactly the kind of original (okay technically adapted from a graphic novel) thriller audiences should be eating up - and were doing so 20 years ago - that has now been reduced to being dumped online with no marketing. I guess I can understand the low ratings, but this is everything I want in this kind of movie.