Movie Diary 7/27/2021

The Empty Man (David Prior, 2020). This under-publicized film has gotten its share of enthusiastic notices. James Badge Dale carries the movie – and ably, too – as a loner drawn into a storyline that sounds like an urban-legend teen horror flick: Think about “the Empty Man” while standing on a bridge and blowing into an empty bottle, and the fearsome apparition will manifest itself over the course of three days. That dopey-but-what-the-hell-it’s-a-horror-movie idea sits uncomfortably with the mysterious angst that Dale’s character brings with him, and somehow it’s all connected with a long prologue set in Bhutan 25 years earlier, which Dale never mentions even though you keep waiting for him to. The film drags in as many modern horror conventions as it can (huh, look at that coven of black-clad worshippers chanting around a bonfire in a field at night), sometimes to eye-rolling effect. And yet, the film’s supporters aren’t completely wrong; there’s something afoot here, even though the reliance on contrived scares and sub-Shyamalan mood is overdone. There’s a good weird-teen performance by Sasha Frolova, a fine turn by Stephen Root as a cult leader, and an absolute knockout single scene from Phoebe Nicholls (of the longform Brideshead Revisited all those years ago) as a subliminally sinister nurse.

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