The Empty Man (film)

The Empty Man is a 2020 American supernatural horror film written and directed by David Prior, based on Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey's graphic novel of same name published by Boom! Studios. The film stars James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland, Stephen Root, Ron Canada, Robert Aramayo, Joel Courtney, and Sasha Frolova. It follows an ex-cop who, upon an investigation into a missing girl, discovers a secret cult.

The Empty Man
The Empty Man Film Poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Prior
Screenplay byDavid Prior
Based on
The Empty Man
Produced by
CinematographyAnastos N. Michos
Edited by
  • Andrew Buckland
  • David Prior
Music by
Distributed by20th Century Studios[2][a]
Release date
  • October 23, 2020 (2020-10-23) (United States)
Running time
137 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$16 million[3]
Box office$4.8 million[2][4]

Originally filmed in August 2017, the film received poor scores at test screenings and distributor 20th Century Studios lost faith in its commercial prospects. The final product, theatrically released in the United States on October 23, 2020, was still considered a rough edit by Prior. The film received mostly negative reviews from critics and audiences at the time of its release, although reception improved after it came out on home media[5] and has since gained a cult following.[6]


In the Ura Valley, Bhutan in 1995; four friends — Greg, Fiona, Ruthie, and Paul — go hiking on a mountain. Paul hears a strange whistling and falls in a crevice. Greg finds him in an almost catatonic state, staring at a massive and strange inhuman skeleton embedded into the cave wall. The group carries him out and take refuge at an empty house as a snowstorm hits. The next day, Ruthie is chased by the spirit of the creature in the cave. That night, Paul, slowly possessed by the evil spirit, whispers something into Ruthie's ear. The group later finds Paul next to the bridge they crossed. Ruthie becomes dazed before stabbing Greg and slicing Fiona's throat and throwing their bodies over the cliff. She shares an entranced look with Paul before throwing herself off too.

In Missouri 2018, former detective James Lasombra is grieving the death of his wife Allison and their son Henry who died in a car accident a year ago. He is friends with a local called Nora. Nora's daughter Amanda runs away and they find a message written in blood in the bathroom saying "The Empty Man made me do it". Amanda's friend Devara reveals that Devara, Amanda and their friends were encouraged by Amanda to summon the Empty Man, a local legend. They did so and Devara later witnessed Amanda whispering into Brandon's ear.

James investigates the bridge the friends were on and finds the hanged bodies of Brandon and the rest of Amanda's friends with the same message found in Amanda's bathroom. Devara is killed by the spirit, who makes it seem like she killed herself.

James researches the Pontifex Institute, discovering it is a cult that has beliefs originating from places like Bhutan and in tulpas. He believes he hears The Empty Man that night and is besieged by nightmares. He travels to the institute and sits in on a talk by cult leader Arthur Parsons. Speaking to Parsons, he is alarmed at the leader's references to The Empty Man, claiming him to be an entity that provides his followers with what they want as long as they do his bidding.

James begins to think he sees The Empty Man. He follows cult members and investigates a cabin in the woods where he finds files on Amanda, her friends, Paul, and himself. He witnesses the cult performing a fire ritual but is spotted and pursued by the cult. He suspects that Amanda is now a member of the cult and informs Nora that she isn't safe. He takes Nora to a hotel to hide. It is revealed that the pair were having an affair and he was with Nora when Allison and Henry died.

Suffering from hallucinations, James ambushes cult member Garrett and asks him what is happening. Garrett claims that there is a man in the hospital that The Empty Man is transmitting to the cult from. James discovers that the man is actually Paul, who is in a comatose state and regularly visited by cult members to get messages from the spirit. He finds Amanda in Paul's hospital room and she explains that Paul is dying from the strain of being the Empty Man, and that the cult needs a new vessel. She tells James he is a tulpa, a new vessel for the being, and that his memories and relationships were fabricated by her and the cult to ensure the deity's connection through his pain and loss. According to Amanda, James has only existed for a few days. In disbelief, James calls Nora, but she does not know who he is.

James breaks down and finds himself in a limbo-like dimension, where the entity enters his body. Back in the hospital, James executes Paul. He finds himself surrounded by several members of the hospital staff. They bow to him.




On February 9, 2016, it was announced that 20th Century Fox acquired the graphic novel The Empty Man from Boom! Studios for a feature film, with David Prior hired to write and direct the film.[7][8][9] The supernatural thriller film would be produced by Ross Richie and Stephen Christy.[7] On July 7, 2016, it was announced that James Badge Dale was cast in the lead role as an ex-cop plagued by the violent deaths of his wife and son, who tries to find a missing girl.[10][11] On September 27, 2016, it was announced that Aaron Poole was cast in the film to play Paul, an outdoorsy adventurer.[12][13] The Empty Man was the last film to feature the original 20th Century Fox logo.[5]


A majority of principal photography took place in South Africa in late 2016.[14] During that final week, production halted due to poor weather conditions. During this time, Fox's executive vice president of production Mark Roybal left the studio. According to director David Prior, Roybal was "essential" towards the greenlighting of the film. Production resumed once a new executive was hired. Approved on a budget of $16 million, Prior said about $11 million was used on the shoot.[3] The final week of production resumed in September 2017 in Edwardsville, Illinois, with some filming done at the Madison County courthouse.[15][16] Filming also took place at the Chain of Rocks Bridge and moved to another undisclosed location after three days.[17]

When test screenings occurred, Prior was told to assemble a cut almost immediately after production had ended. Following low test scores, the studio began panicking over losing a tax rebate from South Africa due to impending deadlines. The producers assembled their own 90 minute version of the film (over 45 minutes shorter than Prior's original), which tested even worse. This led Prior to delivering his final cut of the film with six extra minutes he initially intended to cut out.[6][3]


The Empty Man was theatrically released on October 23, 2020, by 20th Century Studios (by mistake, the film was released under the 20th Century Fox banner despite the studio's name change on January 17, 2020).[18] The film was originally scheduled for release on August 7, 2020, but was delayed to December 4 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, before being moved up to the October date following the shifting of Death on the Nile.[19][20]

In the United Kingdom, the movie skipped a theatrical release entirely, instead being released straight to Video on demand services on February 19, 2021.[21]


Box officeEdit

The Empty Man grossed $3 million in the United States and Canada, and $1.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $4.2 million.[2]

The film grossed $1.3 million from 2,027 theaters in its opening weekend, finishing fourth at the box office. 53% of the audience was male, with 53% also being over the age of 25. Analysts blamed the film's low box office on a lack of marketing, with social media analytics corporation RelishMix saying: "The campaign on social for 20th's The Empty Man dropped just one week ago on [October] 16. Any normal campaign for an indie, one-off high concept or awards contender will obviously drop at least two months out — at the latest."[22] The film fell 57% in its second weekend to $561,000, then made $294,350 in its third.[23]

Critical responseEdit

The Empty Man was not screened in advance for critics upon its release, and initial reviews were mostly negative.[5][6][24] On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 76% of 25 critics have given the film a positive review, with an average rating of 5.8/10.[25]

Barry Hertz of The Globe and Mail gave the film 2/4, writing: "Producers couldn't have picked a better title, though. After I left my Friday afternoon screening, attended by a whopping two other people, I felt far from satisfied. Empty, you might say."[24] Writing for The Only Critic, Nate Adams gave it a "D−", summarizing that "running an overlong two hours and twenty minutes, The Empty Man – probably the bastard cousin twice removed from The Bye Bye Man or Slender Man, not good company – is a total bore".[26]

Michael Gingold of Rue Morgue gave the film a positive review, saying its "not at all the movie that its trailers are selling, and in this case, that's a good thing".[1] Brian Tallerico of gave the film 2.5/4 stars and wrote that "every once in a while, a studio buries a project because they don't get it. How do you sell a film as surreal and unsettling as The Empty Man? You don't even try. If you're lucky, the audience finds it on their own."[27]

Audience responseEdit

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "D+" on an A+ to F scale. PostTrak reported 42% of audience members gave the film a positive score, with "an awful" 25% saying they would definitely recommend it.[22][28] According to several publications, the film has "the makings of a cult classic" and found second life in home media.[5][29][30] The Film School Rejects wrote: "As happens with most cult movies, The Empty Man's audience has started to view the film's alleged weaknesses as its strengths."[6]


  1. ^ Although 20th Century Studios is credited under its current name in the movie and marketing, the 20th Century Fox logo appears at the beginning, with the film's copyright credits dating back to 2018, as it was developed and initially intended to be released before Disney's purchase of Fox.


  1. ^ a b Gingold, Michael (October 22, 2020). ""The Empty Man" Goes to Strange, Unexpected Places". Rue Morgue. Retrieved October 23, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c "The Empty Man (2020)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 21, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Adam Nayman (May 3, 2021). "Everything Zen: David Prior on "The Empty Man"". Mubi. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  4. ^ "The Empty Man (2020)". The Numbers. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d Jackson, Dan (March 23, 2021). "How the Horror Flop 'The Empty Man' Became the Great Cult Movie of 2020". Thrillist. Group Nine Media. Retrieved July 8, 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d Mongale, Matthew (March 2, 2021). "How David Prior's The Empty Man Survived the Perfect Hollywood Storm". Film School Rejects. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  7. ^ a b Hipes, Patrick (February 9, 2016). "Fox Options Boom! Graphic Novel 'The Empty Man', Gets David Prior To Fill It". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  8. ^ Stevens, Michael (March 29, 2019). "Sneak Peek: "The Empty Man"". Sneak Peek. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
  9. ^ Stevens, Michael (February 19, 2020). ""The Empty Man"". Sneak Peek. Retrieved March 8, 2020.
  10. ^ Kit, Borys (July 7, 2016). "James Badge Dale to Star in Supernatural Thriller 'The Empty Man' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Valence Media. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  11. ^ "The Empty Man Movie (2019)". Movie Insider. April 28, 2018. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  12. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (September 27, 2016). "Fox's 'The Empty Man' Adds Aaron Poole". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved September 28, 2016.
  13. ^ Fitzgerald, Cantor (June 14, 2018). "'The Empty Man' - MovieStock". Hollywood Stock Exchange. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  14. ^ Mongale, Matthew (March 2, 2021). "How David Prior's 'The Empty Man' Survived the Perfect Hollywood Storm". Film School Rejects. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  15. ^ Davenport, Cory (August 31, 2017). "The Empty Man: Movie scenes to be shot in Edwardsville". RiverBender. Retrieved September 3, 2017.
  16. ^ Sczesny, Matt (September 1, 2017). "A Hollywood film is shooting in Edwardsville". KMOV. Retrieved September 3, 2017.
  17. ^ "Filming to start tonight for crime thriller at Madison County Courthouse". AdvantageNews. August 31, 2017. Retrieved September 3, 2017.
  18. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 23, 2020). "'Black Widow' Jumps To Summer 2021 Spurring Marvel Pics Release Date Shift; 'West Side Story' Delayed A Year; 'Soul' Stays Theatrical". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  19. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (June 26, 2020). "'Unhinged' Going July 31 In Wake Of 'Tenet' Summer Shift". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  20. ^ Rubin, Rebecca (July 23, 2020). "'Star Wars' Films, 'Avatar' Sequels Pushed Back a Year in Disney Release Calendar Shakeup". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  21. ^ "The Empty Man".
  22. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (October 25, 2020). "'Honest Thief' Continues To Lead Lackluster Pandemic Box Office, 'Empty Man' Tripped By Holdovers". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  23. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 1, 2020). "Focus Features-Amblin Horror Movie 'Come Play' Leading Halloween Pandemic Weekend B.O. With $3M+". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
  24. ^ a b Hertz, Barry (October 23, 2020). "Barely promoted horror The Empty Man cements the fact that it's dark days indeed for moviegoers". The Globe and Mail. The Woodbridge Company. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  25. ^ "The Empty Man (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  26. ^ Adams, Nate (October 23, 2020). "Review: Hollow 'The Empty Man' an overlong supernatural thriller that goes nowhere". The Only Critic. Retrieved October 23, 2020.
  27. ^ Tallerico, Brian (January 12, 2021). ""The Empty Man" Review". Retrieved April 14, 2021.
  28. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (25 October 2020). "'The Empty Man' Opens at Empty Theaters as Weekend Box Office Grosses Less Than $10 Million". IndieWire. no reviews (even the trades didn’t check in over the weekend), and a D+ Cinemascore.
  29. ^ Dean, Tres (April 6, 2021). "The Empty Man Is the Next Great Cult Horror Film". Vulture. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  30. ^ Chris Stuckmann (March 21, 2021). "The Empty Man Deserves a Cult Following". YouTube. Retrieved March 31, 2021.

External linksEdit