A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Empty Man is a sci-fi/horror movie about a former cop who's investigating the disappearance of a teen girl who took part in an urban legend ritual. Expect plenty of bloody scenes, with stabbing and slicing, punching, and a character getting shot in the head. There's also a dog corpse covered in maggots, characters going over a cliff to their deaths, a scary monster, many creepy moments, and more. There's some nudity in the form of the breasts and bottom of a woman in a steam bath. And there's a sex scene in which a man nuzzles a woman from behind, caresses and kisses her, and then thrusts once from behind (no explicit nudity). Language includes "f--k," "s--t," and more. Characters, including teens, smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol (sometimes lots of it) in more than one scene.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In THE EMPTY MAN, it's 1995, and four hikers explore a valley in Bhutan. One tumbles into a crevice and falls under some kind of spell, resulting in the deaths of his three friends. Years later, in 2018, a group of teens engages in a ritual in which they blow into an empty bottle while on a bridge, thus summoning "The Empty Man." Most of them wind up dead, hanging under the bridge, but one, Amanda (Sasha Frolova), vanishes. Amanda's mother, Nora (Marin Ireland), calls upon her friend, a former cop named James (James Badge Dale), to help. His investigation brings him to a cult called Pontifex, which worships the idea of nothingness ("nothing exists"). Little does he know that the mystery goes even deeper.
Is it any good?
This long, slow-burn sci-fi tale takes its simple "urban legend" idea into ambitious territory, but, by the time it wraps up, it all makes too little sense to justify sitting through it. Directed and co-written by David Prior, The Empty Man startles with its extra-long prologue about the four hikers, spending several days with them, developing character, etc., all to end it with a shock. But once all the pieces of the overall story arc come together, it turns out that all that time wasn't particularly important after all. "Empty" isn't just part of the movie's title.
Prior, who previously worked making short, behind-the-scenes documentaries for feature films like David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, seems to be channeling Fincher on The Empty Man. The movie is, admittedly, beautifully and spookily designed, with fine, unsettling uses of space and sound, especially when James starts poking around in Pontifex's inner sanctum. And its dialogue about reality and nothingness tickles the brain. Overall, the movie definitely rises above cheap quickies like The Bye Bye Man and Slender Man, which tried to cash in on similar "urban legends." But whatever goodwill the movie builds up is largely squandered with a big "that's it?" of an ending.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Empty Man's violence. How intense is it? How did it make you feel? Do you think the story could have been told with less violence?
How is sex depicted? What values are imparted?
What's the appeal of scary movies? Why would people sometimes want to be scared?
Is there anything to the idea of reality not actually existing? What do you think of this idea?
- In theaters: October 23, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: January 10, 2021
- Cast: Stephen Root, James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland
- Director: David Prior
- Studio: 20th Century Fox
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Book Characters, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 137 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, disturbing images, language, some sexuality and nudity
- Last updated: March 12, 2021
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