Apple TV Review – THE EMPTY MAN & James Badge Dale’s Should-Be Stardom

THE EMPTY MAN came and went in theaters with barely a blip; I even think without any COVID restrictions in the theaters the movie would have just come and gone without many people discovering it. 

Based on a graphic novel by Cullen Bunn and written for the screen and directed by David Prior, the picture opens in the past on four friends hiking in Bhutan and one of them becomes possessed by an unknown force. His actions then lead to the death of the entire group in a really bizarre way. This entire sequence is a nearly 25 minute prologue to a 137 minute movie and I almost wish the entire movie was set around these people and the mountain setting. 

This then cuts to Missouri as we meet James (James Badge Dale) who is an investigator of sorts who comes across a similar case to the opening sequence; “The Empty Man” fascination is that if you blow into a bottle on an empty bridge that the evil force will appear. James comes across Amanda (Sasha Frolova) who seems to be more deeply connected then disappears from everyone’s life after apparently she summoned The Empty Man herself. An investigation ensues and the story makes many twists and turns that I wish not to describe but to let the viewer find out for themselves. 

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The strongest element I liked in THE EMPTY MAN is the lead performance by James Badge Dale who I have said many times before should be a movie star. I have seen him in many smaller movies over the years, mostly in film festivals, and here he’s very effective as a former policeman trying to make any sense about what is happening around him, and it’s a solid “Acting is reacting” type of performance. He has such a great presence that you really do wonder why you don’t see him more. There are some solid supporting performances as well. I really liked Sasha Frolova as the short haired, possessed Amanda who has a really interesting presence, and another good performance by Stephen Root who really disappears into his creepy character as the leader of a cult. 

Still, maybe this aspect of horror cinema is not my thing and other audiences might pick up on a lot more than I did here. I felt like I left the movie not really understanding a lot of what happened and why, especially scenes in the final act which seemed to come out of nowhere. Still, I’ll give it some marks for some good visual direction by David Prior and Dale’s terrific lead performance.

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About the Apple TV release: 

One great thing about most new releases on Apple is that all titles are in full 4k, HDR and Dolby Vision support. I ran the film in Dolby Vision and many aspects of the transfer really hold up well. As expected, it’s a very dark and moody picture with shadows and low light, the blacks are the star of the show, and I liked how it exactly shows us what we are supposed to look at in each frame. The only mild issue was a bit of flat blacks on an early bridge sequence but overall the image has quite exquisite detail. 

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack, however, really is the standout here with a deep, bass-driven feel of dread throughout. Strong surrounds and immersive for almost its entire running time, it’s a great example of a soundtrack to freak out your friends on movie night. Even the music score has a great low bass effect that really got me in the mood. THE EMPTY MAN also has a particular ASMR sound at times with this bizarre whispering effect from some of its possessed characters that made me cringe, but I suppose that was the intention of the filmmakers. I almost want to recommend THE EMPTY MAN for its soundtrack alone! 

There are no features on this release so far; perhaps down the line we could see a filmmaker commentary track or behind the scenes documentary added as iTunes extras. As far as I know, there is no 4k physical release and this is the best way to check out the movie with the best quality possible.

Overall, I found THE EMPTY MAN very overlong but with a LOT of strong elements and performances to at the very least and now for more audiences to potentially discover it. Maybe you’ll get more out of it than I will.

Movie Rating: **½ out of ****

Digital Release: *** out of ****

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THE EMPTY MAN is available starting today on our preferred streamer Apple TV (aka iTunes). Many thanks to Fox/Disney PR for sending along a review copy. 

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