"Journey to Deranged Confusion and Demonic Chaos"
What You Need To Know:
THE EMPTY MAN has some interesting twists and intriguing mystery. It’s more like a mystery than a horror movie. However, a demonic ending takes the story out of the detective genre and back into the horror genre. The movie’s worldview, and the cult’s goals, are confusing and jumbled. They contain elements of occultism, Eastern religion and nihilism. THE EMPTY MAN contains strong foul language, extreme violence, brief explicit nudity, and other objectionable content.
THE EMPTY MAN is a psychological, supernatural horror movie about an ex-cop searching for a missing high school senior who’s involved with a weird cult connected to a series of suicides and murders involving an alleged demonic entity called The Empty Man. Loosely based on a comic book horror series, THE EMPTY MAN is a strange, violent movie with some interesting twists and turns, but it’s a perplexing, obscenity laden mix of creepy horror, a dense and nihilistic occult subtext about reality, fantasy and language, and crazy situations that defy understanding.
The movie opens with a 20-minute prologue where four American hikers exploring the Himalayas in 1995. The hikers encounter an ancient skeleton in a cave, and a supernatural entity that, after three days of waiting out a blizzard, causes one woman to stab one of her fellow hikers and slit the throat of another one before committing suicide by casting herself into a gorge. Meanwhile, the fourth hiker just watches while calmly blowing whistles through a thin tubular bottle device he’s found.
Cut 23 years later to James, a retired cop in some town who’s friends with Nora, the widow of his best friend, and her daughter, Amanda. Amanda attends the Jacques Derrida High School, named after the famous obtuse French Marxist philosopher who founded the obtuse school of linguistics and interpretation, Deconstructionism. Amanda is a high school senior who’s just turned 18. She privately tells James she’s been dealing with her grief over her father’s sudden death about a year ago by practicing positive thinking. She urges James to try it since James himself is grieving over the death of his wife and boy in a car accident one night.
One day, Amanda disappears, leaving behind a note scrawled in animal blood on her bathroom, “The Empty Man made me do it.” At Amanda’s high school, James asks one of Amanda’s friends about the Empty Man. The girl says the Empty Man is an urban legend which says that, if you stand on a bridge and find an empty bottle while blowing through it, the Empty Man will reveal himself. As the Empty Man legend says, “The first night you hear him; the second night you see him; the third night he finds you.” She admits that she, Amanda, and several of their friends about three nights ago tried to contact the Empty Man by doing this on a creepy local bridge. In searching for the other friends, James finds that they’ve also disappeared. While searching the bridge, however, James finds their corpses hanging from a steel beam in the walkway under the bridge. Scrawled on the cement are the words, “The Empty Man made me do it.”
The police inform James that the deaths of the teenagers are part of a series of mystery suicides and murders connected to the Empty Man legend. The detective in charge of the case says that the Empty Man deaths are almost like a virus that’s infected the town (in the original comic books, the deaths are indeed part of a supernatural virus). James tells the detective he’s found an ad for a place called The Pontifex Institute in Amanda’s room. Since Amanda’s body still hasn’t been found, he thinks that perhaps Amanda is hiding from the Empty Man at the Institute.
James visits downtown where the Institute’s located. Before entering the building, he runs into a strange young man. He tries to talk to the man and ask him about Amanda, but the man is evasive and talks in philosophical gibberish. James enters the building and sneaks into a lecture at the Institute given by one of its leaders, a man named Arthur, played by the wonderful character actor Stephen Root. Arthur gives the small crowd a positive thinking type of lecture mixed with some obtuse Eastern thoughts about emptying your mind and letting go. There are no distinctions, Arthur tells the audience. Concepts of right and wrong are meaningless, he says. Struggle is an illusion, Arthur also tells them. “You are complete in yourself,” he says, adding, “We will all be one again.”
After the lecture, James questions Arthur about the Institute’s philosophy. Arthur talks to James about the meaninglessness of language and encourages James to embrace the “abyss” or nothingness. His words sound a little bit like a combination of Buddhism and the philosophy of the French Marxist philosopher after whom Amanda’s high school is named. It also echoes the literal meaning behind the words “The Empty Man.” Arthur tells James that the Empty Man is “a focal point for the targeted manifestation of hidden energies.” He adds, “Our thoughts feed and are fed by the sum of all conscious thought. Distinctions rob us of our focus. Technology robs us of our memory. Repetition robs us of our comprehension.” Arthur concludes by saying that familiarity and repetition of our thoughts reduces meaning to “gibberish.” That’s why there is no difference between our thoughts and gibberish, between words and gibberish, or between our names and gibberish. “That is the Empty Man,” he claims.
James leaves the building but sneaks into the Institute through the back way. As he explores the dark bowels under the building, he runs into a small group therapy session where the people are trying to conjure the Empty Man by blowing into bottles. He doesn’t think they can see him but in another moment they are suddenly staring straight at him.
Eventually, James learns from a young goateed man that Amanda is hiding at the Institute’s camp deep in the Missouri woods. He takes his van up there at night and discovers an abandoned cabin. The cabin contains a strange video of a thin, bald young man who seems out of his mind and is being manipulated by some people. Alone in his room, the man twitches, mutters to himself and draws a picture of a ghostly figure. The cabin also contains files on Amanda, her friends and himself. James takes the files with him.
Outside the cabin, in the distance, members of the cult are performing some kind of bizarre dance around a large bonfire. The flames from the bonfire start to reach into the sky, and the stars start to spin. James shakes his head to stop the spinning, and the flames return to normal. As James walks away, the ritual suddenly ends, and the people start coming, then running toward him. James barely escapes to his car. He then takes the files to the two police detectives working on Amanda’s disappearance, but they dismiss them as inconclusive.
At his home, James suddenly awakens and is haunted and almost attacked by a scary manifestation of the Empty Man.
The next day, James follows some young students from the Institute to a local hospital. Hiding from them, he watches them as they enter an older, comatose man’s room. The man is connected to all sorts of turbs and to a life monitor. The students fall to their knees and bow down to the man.
James leaves the hospital and grabs the young man he talked to the day before at the Institute. He threatens the young man to tell him what the people were doing in the hospital room. The man says the patient is a “courier” who transmits information from the “sum of all consciousness” to the people. “He transmits; we receive,” he says. There are other minds in this world, the man adds, but some of them are ancient and angry. The patient in the hospital has been possessed by one of those angry minds, a mind full of dark, violent chaos. When James asks him where Amanda is, the man gives him a cryptic answer and starts laughing. James is tired of the cryptic answers and punches the man in the face several times, but the man just continues laughing. So, James leaves.
James then breaks into the basement of the Institute, where they keep their files. Will he find the answers he seeks? Will he ever find Amanda?
The Meriam Webster Dictionary defines Deconstruction, invented by the Marxist French philosopher Jacques Derrida, as a “philosophical or critical method which asserts that meanings, metaphysical constructs, and hierarchical oppositions (as between key terms in a philosophical or literary work) are always rendered unstable by their dependence on ultimately arbitrary signifiers” or the letters that form words, sentences and paragraphs. Thus, because the letters in a language are arbitrary, then the meaning of anything (including Reality, God or a work of art, a book or an essay) is inherently contradictory and virtually impossible to determine.
The nihilistic description of Reality and Meaning by the cult in THE EMPTY MAN sounds similar to Derrida’s theory of Deconstruction. However, it’s also imbued with concepts from Eastern, occult religion. Eventually, the demonic entity in the story overcomes the main character, just as it overcomes the hikers in the prologue. Violent murder results.
THE EMPTY MAN has some interesting twists and intriguing mystery. It’s more like a mystery than a horror movie. However, the demonic ending takes the story out of the mystery, detective genre and back into the horror genre. Also, the concepts in THE EMPTY MAN are a bit all over the place. They combine occult elements, elements of Eastern religion and nihilistic philosophical concepts. As a result, the ending become confusing, depressing and ultimately unsatisfying. The movie also has a long running time of two and a quarter hours. Finally, THE EMPTY MAN contains lots of strong foul language, extreme violence, brief explicit nudity, and other objectionable content. These negative elements, coupled with the movie’s false, occult, demonic worldview, make for an abhorrent movie.