Gabe’s review published on Letterboxd:
With October right around the corner I couldn't think of a better way to kick off the spooky season than with The Empty Man. I've been hearing a lot of positive buzz about this one for a while now and finally managed to squeeze it in before it left HBO. Sad to say that in a lot of ways this was a little disappointing... but in others it was quite exceptional!
Performances were great all around, especially a surprise Stephen Root, who's always always good and almost steals the show with his far too brief three minutes of screentime. The visuals and atmosphere were incredible, and there's some really great world building in here that justifies such a long runtime for what on the surface appears to be a modest horror premise. And Christopher Young, ever the MVP, crushes the score and sound.
There's a lot of lovecraftian mystery and imagery here that I adored. It's such an interesting spin on lovecraft's existentialism to turn his trademarked "terrifying cosmic unknown" inward, turning manifestation of thought not just into a reality, but the source of the apocalypse. The Empty Man proves it's just as terrifying to contemplate the concept of total nothingness as it is the enormity of everything there could possibly be.
However, for all the ideas there are to love, I don't think the final product manages to reach what it's shooting for. The Empty Man himself is extremely generic and whenever he fully appears it kind of takes the wind out of everything the rest of the film builds him up to be. It's like setting up the perfect pitch and then not even taking the swing.
Also far too much centrality is given to the main character. The finale of the movie hinges on his emotional arc, but the whole point of the finale is that his emotional arc is entirely fabricated. At a certain point the size of his role in the film should have matched the size of his role in the cults 500 year plan. Again, a success in setting up, and a failure in execution.
The Empty Man remains a great, gorgeous, and sometimes genuinely intriguing horror film. But it could've been a whole lot more.