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Film / The Empty Man

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"We transmit, you receive."
The Empty Man is a 2020 horror film directed by David Prior based on a Boom! Studios graphic novel series of the same name. The film stars James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland, Stephen Root, Ron Canada, Joel Courtney, Robert Aramayo, and Sasha Frolova.

The movie follows James Lasombra (James Badge-Dale), a retired police officer who investigates the mysterious disappearances of a group of teenagers reportedly linked to an urban legend in the town known as The Empty Man.

Official trailer.

The Empty Man provides examples of

  • The Adjectival Man: The titular Empty Man.
  • Ancient Evil: The Empty Man is seemingly this, judging by the remains the hikers find in the prologue.
  • Arc Words: "We transmit, you receive", "itch in the brain", and " nothing is real".
  • Bedtime Brainwashing: Paul ends up doing this to Ruthie on the second day in the prologue.
  • Black Speech/Brown Note: Certain people affected by The Empty Man are seemingly compelled to whisper... something... to other people. Whatever this is, it causes several people who hear to kill themselves, and it causes Ruthie to commit a Murder-Suicide in the prologue. It's heavily implied that the whispering has other effects as well.
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  • Brown Note Being: When Paul encounters The Empty Man's remains in the prologue, he almost immediately becomes a host for The Empty Man.
  • Church of Happyology: The Pontifex Society passes themselves off as a self-empowerment group. They're actually a cult that is exploiting The Empty Man's power for, among other things, The Power of Creation.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The Pontifex Society are using The Empty Man's power to experiment with this, up to and including the creation of thoughtforms.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Veers hard into this after Lasombra starts investigating The Pontifex Society.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Lasombra’s wife and son died in a tragic car crash while he was having an affair with Nora. It turns out this backstory was written for him by the Pontifex Society.
  • Dead Star Walking: Joel Courtney dies very early on.
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  • Deadly Bath: Davara Walsh is killed in the shower.
  • Downer Ending: Lasombra is a Tulpa, everything he knows is a lie, and he ends up becoming The Empty Man's new host because, after learning all of this, he has no reason to fight it.
  • Due to the Dead: After killing Davara, the Empty Man closes her one remaining eye.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Empty Man, who is a manifestation of the thoughts of the cult and, if one of the cultists is to be believed, also minds of inhuman things "ancient and angry."
  • Empty Shell: Paul becomes this after being exposed to the Empty Man in 1995. Might have happened to Lasombra at the end of the film, after he kills Paul and becomes the Empty Man's new host.
  • Evil Phone: Lasombra gets a call from a mysterious source while talking with Nora.
  • Eye Scream: Davara is repeatedly stabbed in the eye when she dies.
  • Fighting from the Inside: When Paul is found by the other hikers, he tries to warn them that they will die if they touch him. He also sheds a Single Tear when his girlfriend, Ruthie, is compelled to kill the other hikers, then herself.
    • His running away on the third day could also be him trying to get himself away from the other hikers before something happens.
  • Foreshadowing: Amanda talking to Lasombra about the power of thought, before she goes missing. It's an early sign that the film is really a Cosmic Horror Story.
    • How eloquently she talks about it is also a hint that she's a much more experienced member of The Pontifex Society than we're led to believe.
    • Paul is the only hiker who isn't afraid to cross the bridge in the prologue. Bridges end up becoming an important motif around The Empty Man, and Paul is later described as a "bridge" between The Empty Man and The Pontifex Society. Furthermore, as stated below the word "pontifex" is Latin for "bridge builder".
    • After Paul is possessed by The Empty Man, Greg discovers his Self-Harm scars. It's later revealed that The Empty Man's power manifests most effectively "through the cracks of sorrow". This is why Lasombra was The Pontifex Society's first successful attempt at a thoughtform, and it's why both he and Paul became hosts for The Empty Man.
    • One of the questions on the Hidden Purpose Test at The Pontifex Institute is "The Brain Can Itch". Both Garrett and Amanda later describe The Empty Man's influence as an "itch in the brain".
    • Lasombra is noticeably unaffected by the cultist's Black Speech both times he's exposed to it. This is because he was created, in part, by it.
  • Genre Shift: The first 20 minutes are survival horror the middle part urban legend ghost story and the final portion is full-blown Cosmic Horror Story.
  • Heroic Willpower: Defied. The Pontifex Society gives Lasombra such a depressing backstory so that, when it's time for him to become The Empty Man's new host, he won't have the motivation to fight it and live for himself. It works.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Empty Man's remains in the prologue; a giant humanoid skeleton with massive hands and Spider Limbs.
  • Meaningful Name: "Pontifex" is a Latin word meaning "bridge builder". It's also an old term for a pontiff or bishop, or, a "bridge" between man and god; Pope Francis even uses "@Pontifex" as his Twitter handle. This fits with both Paul and Lasombra, who become hosts for The Empty Man, or, "bridges" between The Empty Man and the real world. It also fits with The Pontifex Society, who operate as a Religion of Evil, and created Lasombra to be The Empty Man's new host, i.e. "building a bridge", and functioning as their spiritual leader a la the Pope.
    • La sombra is Spanish for "the shadow", a hint that Lasombra is really a Tulpa.
  • Metaphysical Fuel: The Pontifex Society are using The Empty Man's power in their experiments. To continue doing this, they created Lasombra to replace The Empty Man's current, deteriorating host.
  • Mirror Routine:
    • After Lasombra is noticed by the cultists at the camp, they start copying his movements en masse.
    Lasombra: Yeah, no. (starts running as the cultists chase after him)
    • The Empty Man also does this with one of the hikers in the prologue.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The promotional materials play up the Slender Man-esque elements of the film. This is mostly in the first half, the second half is more of a Cosmic Horror Story.
  • Possession Burnout: Paul's body is deteriorating after being The Empty Man's host for so long.
  • Prolonged Prologue: The prologue in Bhutan takes about 23 minutes.
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: The Empty Man forces people to kill themselves, which they see as him killing them. Such deaths are accompanied by the phrase "The Empty Man made me do it" written in blood.
  • Religion of Evil: The Pontifex Society worship The Empty Man, and are using its power to create thoughtforms.
  • Rule of Three: People exposed to The Empty Man are affected over three days, and this three-day cycle happens three times; to the hikers in the prologue, to Amanda's friends (and fellow cultists) and, finally, to Lasombra himself.
  • Shout-Out: You'd be forgiven for assuming with the way it's spoken of that The Empty Man is a form of Nyarlathotep.
  • Sanity Slippage: Lasombra clearly starts losing it near the end, culminating in him crossing the Despair Event Horizon after discovering he's not even real.
  • Surreal Horror: The film dabbles in this a lot.
    • When Lasombra discovers Pontifex cultists at the camp, the stars in the sky start to warp behind him as they complete their ritual. There's also the Mirror Routine when the cultists finally notice him.
  • Tulpa: Lasombra was created as a new host for The Empty Man.
  • Undead Abomination: The Empty Man may or may not be undead. At the very least, that's probably its' skeleton that Paul finds in the cave, but the Empty Man can't really be considered alive, being made up of thoughts.


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