Review: The Empty Man (2021)

The 2014 comic book by Cullen Bunn and Vanesa Del Rey gets a big screen adaptation.


On the trail of a missing girl, an ex-cop comes across a secretive group attempting to summon a terrifying supernatural entity. An urban legend type story with similarities to movies like Candyman, Slenderman and The Ring.

What I will say about this movie is the trailer is quite misleading because I took a very dark horror vibe from the trailer but the movie is much more a thriller than horror. I will also say that people should ignore its relatively low scores on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes because as far as dark, investigative thrillers go I found this quite good.

David Prior has written a well rounded story which flows at a steady pace allowing character development for our main character James while not dwelling on support characters. With a runtime over 2 hours I feel there could have been a little bit of trimming to make this a bit more compact but I do respect the creative decisions made to commit to the end product. Especially a 20+ minute prologue which could have easily been trimmed to around 5 minutes.

A story which starts out as a missing person case soon starts to spiral out of control. The more clues James uncovers the darker his path becomes and the horror really starts to step up towards the end. As a thriller there are twists, turns and the odd jumpy moment but it’s not a movie I would say is a horror other than maybe the last 15 minutes. It’s those 15 minutes when the twisted mind of comic writer Cullen Bunn is ever present and the true terror of the comic comes to life. 


I think The Empty Man is an incredibly well made and beautifully shot movie. This has a really artistic feel to its cinematography and structure. There are many scenes when the camera holds on a character giving the audience time to really grasp their emotions.

Director David Prior didn’t just rely on darkness to create atmosphere and constructed some intense moments through the use of light and shadow. Although I know this was not a huge budget movie it felt like it was. With on location shooting and little use of green screen/CGI this has a very polished finish. I really enjoyed the realism in the imagery which contributes to the suspense and chills. 

A particular sequence I loved was a shot when the camera focuses on a map then as you close in on the map it becomes an aerial shot of a forest before finding our way into a travelling car. The way this was shot and edited together really impressed me and felt like something you would see in a John Seale or Robert Richardson movie.


The lead character of James Lasombra is played by James Badge Dale who I really enjoyed in the role. I was a big fan of his work as Chase Edmonds in the TV series 24 but he drifted away over the years. This performance is good enough to bring him back into the spotlight and could help land some more major roles in the future. 

Dale really is the leading man in this movie occupying almost every minute of every scene. There is an experienced supporting cast which includes Stephen Root, Marin Ireland and Sasha Frolova. 


I think people will either like this movie or not depending on their expectation going in. As per the trailer, if you go in wanting and expecting a straight up horror you will probably be disappointed. If you go in with the expectations of a mystery thriller or no expectations at all then I think you will enjoy this quite a lot. 

I’m grateful to see a new movie which isn’t a sequel, prequel or spinoff and as a fan of well made, good looking movies I thoroughly enjoyed The Empty Man. This isn’t my usual type of movie but I found it entertaining and engaging and I can see it finding its audience on home release. No matter what the box office figures say The Empty Man feels like it could become a modern day cult classic and find its audience away from the big screen much like the movies Fight Club and Donnie Darko.

I watched this via a complimentary Movies Anywhere code issued by Cullen Bunn.

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