The Empty Man

The Empty Man ★★★★

The preternatural gifts displayed by Prior occur in what would ordinarily be mundane decisions -- the size and font of the on-screen text that says DAY ONE and DAY TWO, etc.; when he pushes into objects and when he locks the camera down (an early move towards a whistling tea kettle, combined with the sound design and the running theme of people whistling into bottles, makes for a quick firecracker of a shot); the duration of certain second-unit shots or transitions (like a glance at a swarm of birds above, forming patterns in their flock); it all shows an incredibly gifted filmmaker and elevates this to near-fantastic level.

I'm not sure I'm as sold on the script, which is why a star is deducted from perfection, but I could be convinced with future viewings. There's something to the well-considered themes of bridges (the initial rickety suspension in Bhutan, the scene of the car crash, the location of the bottle, etc.) and the idea of repetition turning things to gibberish, but between the overstuffed soup of influences (CANDYMAN, THE RING, ANGEL HEART, THE WICKER MAN, etc.) and the reliance on so much occult nonsense (having Dale keep pointing out that it's silly doesn't absolve Prior from writing said silliness), it's almost too much to bear. Still, it has setpieces galore -- I thought nothing would be able to top the bravura 22-minute (!!) pre-credit sequence, but the mob-in-the-woods is absolutely skin-crawling. This is a weird, scary, provocative debut backed by hard work, immense talent, and clever concepts and I'm sad it got released during a pandemic and missed a slam-dunk spot on my top ten list for 2020, to which it belatedly shall be added.

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