Article updated: 2022.01.25
The The Empty Man (2020) is a supernatural mystery / thriller film. The movie was reviewed by Kadmon.
Product: The Empty Man, movie (2020)
Original title: The Empty Man
Series: The Empty Man
Setting: contemporary fantasy Earth
Product type: Film, Genre: supernatural mystery / thriller, Features: fantasy, thriller, supernatural, mystery, ghosts, Style: ?
Reviewer: Kadmon, Type: Male, 40s, Preferences: Immersive, logical story, consistent setting, prefers surprises to spoilers, prefers establishing elements before referencing them
Watched: very recent (2022.01), first time
Rating: Average (2 out of 3 points), Enjoyment: Bad (1 out of 3 points)
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This is my review of The Empty Man, a supernatural mystery / thriller movie from 2020. It's about a guy trying to find a missing girl. The The Empty Man film is strange movie, but I recommend it to fans of the genre.
If you'd like to be surprised by the The Empty Man film, I don't recommend you to watch the trailer beyond 0:49, because it starts to give away parts of the plot.
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I've heard some good things about the movie, but it was RedLetterMedia that convinced me to watch it. When I had the chance, I gave it a go. I didn't watch the trailer, although I've seen some glimpses of the movie in the RedLetterMedia video. I also have a feeling that I might have read into the graphic novels this movie is based on, but I don't have any recollection of the story.
(Update: Now as I've read the comics, I realised that indeed I've read the story at the time of its publishing, I just didn't remember anything.)
The The Empty Man movie is about a guy trying to find a missing girl.
The actual plot of the movie lacks any sense, and most of the happenings are totally pointless. However, the presentation of the events is interesting and engaging. The consistency is strange, there are practically two stories in this movie, but those are consistent in themselves. There are no real character arcs. I didn't find major logical problems.
The cinematography is good. There are plenty of distinct sets. Some scenes are interesting visually.
We don't really get to know the characters beyond the main protagonist. The actors are good.
The music (by Christopher Young & Brian Williams "Lustmord") is used sparingly, but efficiently.
There's some nudity in a scene. Also, violence and gore, in that same scene.
The Empty Man is an interesting, yet pointless supernatural mystery / thriller. Fans of the genre might enjoy it, but there's an equal chance they might hate it due to its pointless nature.
I was not satisfied with The Empty Man (2020). I happen to like stories where the scenes of the movie are related to the actual plot, but The Empty Man seemingly randomly inserted unrelated scenes into that.
Rating: Average (2 out of 3 points). The Empty Man is a well-made film with an incredibly weak plot.
Enjoyment: Bad (1 out of 3 points). The Empty Man started out interesting, and I liked it for most of the movie, but the last few minutes destroyed the whole story for me.
Rewatchability: Average. I think it's mostly the surprise of the story that makes you feel interested, but if you liked it for the first time, you probably like it for the themes, so you'll enjoy watching it more than once. However, I think you'd skip the prologue, because that doesn't add anything to the actual story.
Chance of watching it again: No.
Chance of watching a sequel: I'd probably watch it, hoping for a better movie than this one.
Will you enjoy this?
If you like mystery or thriller movies, you might like The Empty Man.
If you like horror or action thriller movies, you might like the film, although there are not many action scenes or scary scenes in the The Empty Man movie.
If you like crime investigation stories, you might like The Empty Man, although the focus is not really on the research and investigation, the results just happen.
If you prefer jump scare horrors, this is not that kind of movie.
If you enjoyed the The Empty Man graphic novels, you might be interested in the adaptation of the story, although it doesn't have anything to do with that, beyond the title.
If you don't mind illogical elements in your movies, you can enjoy this.
If you like twists, you might enjoy this movie.
If you prefer visuals over story, you'll be probably bored by this movie.
Do you need to read the original graphic novels to enjoy this?
That's a good question. Although there are enough explanations about the background and the events that you'll probably understand what's going on, but I can't really believe that the comics were similarly pointless.
Update: After reading the comics, I've found out that reading them would indeed give you a better idea of what might be going on that was not shown in the movie.
Watching for plot points
If you are interested in supernatural mystery stories, I think it's worth watching the The Empty Man movie for the plot points.
Should you watch this on your own screen at home, or is it worth going to the cinema?
You'll probably get a similar experience.
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I didn't like the The Empty Man movie.
Truth to be told, I really liked it until the final twist arrived, ruining the whole movie for me. In a couple of minutes, my rating went from "good" to "average", and finally to "bad".
The cover of the movie is a lackluster, and also misleading, but it doesn't spoil the movie.
The trailer is okay, although it spoils some minor parts of the movie.
If you prefer spoilers, it's a great trailer for the The Empty Man film. If you prefer to avoid spoilers, it will make the movie less fun for you.
Promise of the first scene
Mountain climbers find a fossilised creature. One of them falls under its influence, but he is brought away by his friends. I assume the the soul of the creature got inside of him, and then it will possess the body of that man.
Execution: Indeed, that body was possessed, and the story was about that possession, but it took a lot of detours before getting there.
Plot summary / Synopsis
1995: In Ura Valley, Bhutan
While mountain climbing, a member (Aaron Poole as Paul) of the group hears something. He finds a fossilised humanoid creature in a cave, and acts like he is in a trance. The other guy (Evan Jonigkeit as Greg) tries to help him, but he threatens him, that he'll die if he touches him. Despite the warning, the guy touches him, and he falls into a comatose state. The other guy guys has to carry him on his back. They hide in a house from a gathering storm. They find a flute in the guy's hands. It also looks like the guy tried to commit suicide multiple times by slicing his wrist. One of them hears steps approaching the house, but when she opens the door, there's nobody there.
The other guy leaves with a girl (Jessica Matten as Fiona) find help. The comatose guy stays with his girlfriend (Virginia Kull as Ruthie). The girlfriend sees a man standing nearby, so she asks for help, but the man approaches her threateningly, so she locks the door. The other two guys arrive, and tell her that they didn't see anybody else outside of the house. During the night, while they are sleeping, the comatose guy is whispering clicking noises into the ears of his girlfriend.
Next morning, the comatose guy disappeared, and took his clothes.
They track his footsteps in the snow, until they find him sitting, in a trance, and playing on the flute. The comatose guy starts whispering, and his girlfriend attacks the others with a knife, killing both of them, then she jumps off a cliff.
The screen is glitching as the scene ends.
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2018: Webster Mills, Missouri
There's a guy jogging on the street, while hearing "Where have you been?"
We see a guy (James Badge Dale as James Lasombra) working at a security shop. After work, he meets with a girl (Amanda). Her father died, but she is helped by a revelation that the perceived reality is not real. The guy had wife and a son, who have probably died due to his fault. He has bad dreams, so he takes a medication.
The girl's mother (Marin Ireland as Nora Quail) finds the girl missing, so she calls the security guy to come. There's a writing (in animal blood?), saying "The Empty Man made me do it". While the police investigates the place, it is revealed that the security guy was a police officer once. After the police is gone, the security guy goes through the stuff of the girl, finding some esoteric institute (Pontifex Institute) she was into. The word "tulpa" is also written on a piece of paper. In her diary, it's written "he is everywhere".
The security guy talks with the girlfriend (Davara as Samantha Logan) of the missing girl. They talk about the Empty Man. Some days before, they were doing the Empty Man ritual to summon it. The next day, the missing girl was seen whispering clicking noises into the ear of a boy (Brendon). The spell works in a way that on the first day, you hear it, on the second day, you see it, then on the third day, it finds you.
The security guy tries to visit the rest of the group, but they are not at home.
The security guy goes to the bridge, blows into an empty bottle, and suddenly all the animal noises stop. Following a clicking noise, he goes under the bridge, where he finds the hanged up bodies of the rest of the missing kids, with a writing on the wall, "The Empty Man made me do it".
We see the girlfriend in a sauna. She thinks that she gets attacked and killed by the Empty Man, but we see that her wounds are self inflicted. "Empty Man" is written beside her body.
The security guy is told by the police that there were multiple murders related to the Empty Man in the past few months.
The security guy searches the internet about the esoteric society. He also reads about the tulpa, that's a thought manifested in a real body. The mother of the missing girl visits him, trying to get together, but he refuses her advances. That night, he has bad dreams. When he wakes up, he hears creaking steps, and sees shadows moving in his house. Somebody also opened his door.
The security guy goes to the esoteric society, and listens to a presentation about their beliefs, where they mention the Empty Man. The leader of the society explains that as the body is fed by the biosphere, the soul is fed by the thoughts. He searches the place, to find some cultists trying to summon the Empty Man. He talks to a boy, who tells him that the missing girl was here, but she was taken to a camp to prepare her for joining the singularity.
The security guy goes to the camp. While searching the place, he finds files about the missing kids, and an empty folder with his own name on it. He also finds a video where a seemingly possessed man does disturbing things. While he watches the video, a stuffed bear from the room disappears. At night, he sees hundreds of people running and chanting around a bonfire. He sees and feels something strange happening. Then they start to chase him, but he escapes in his car.
The security guy brings the folders to the police, then arms himself up from his shop. He goes to the mother, and asks her to leave the house for a couple of days. While he is there, she gets a call from the society, transmitting clicking noises.
At night, he has bad dreams. Somebody puts the stuffed bear in front of his door.
Next day, the security guy follows a car belonging to the society to a hospital, where the cultist kids sneak in. He sees them worshipping a comatose guy (probably the one from the beginning of the movie). He kidnaps the boy who told him about the camp. The boy confesses that he was asked to set the security guy up. The guy in the hospital is some kind of receiver, some signals can only be intercepted by him. Every few thousand years, there comes an Empty Man, who destroys the boundaries of reality. He leaves the boy, and goes to the building of the society. He finds a dossier on himself that contains lots of personal details and photos of him. He decides to visit the hospital, to find out more about the comatose man. He finds the missing girl tending to the man. He calls the mother of the girl, but she doesn't understand why would he call her.
The girl tells the security guy that the comatose man can't contain that much power for long. That's why they've created the security guy three days ago. They've tried to create him before, but that one didn't succeed, because he was lacking negative emotions, self hatred, and guilt. So this version had all of those.
The security guy feels himself to other times and places. The Empty Man chases him, and gets into his body. He shoots the comatose man. The staff of the hospital bows down to worship him as the receiver.
The Empty Man is set on a contemporary fantasy Earth, where magic and otherwordly entities exist.
The Empty Man
There are entities outside of our perception that can get into our thoughts. These entities are malevolent, who prefer the suffering of people.
It looks like the best recipients of the entity behind the Empty Man are self-hating wrecks. The more suicidal, guilt-ridden they are, the better its grip on them.
I assume that the chosen one is actually aware of what's happening around him. So Paul was aware that his friends are killed around him, so he could feel the grief.
The fossilised humanoid creature in the cave is probably a previous transmitter, maybe from another species, even from another planet.
The cult of the Empty Man believes that nothing is real. There's no good or evil. Everything is equal and the same. They also intend to summon an evil entity to allow it to massacre humans.
The cult is looking for people who are vulnerable, due to some loss. They are also interested in their financial status. (This reflects the priorities of real world cults.)
The members of the cult are able to communicate with strange clicking noises.
The curse of the Empty Man
If a man finds an empty bottle on a bridge, after dark, blows into the bottle, while thinking of the Empty Man, the Empty Man will come.
On the first day, you hear it. On the second day, you see it. Then on the third day, it finds you. (The last part doesn't sound very scary, I assume it also does something terrifying.)
What actually happened?
The Pontifex Institute tried to make a tulpa - a physical manifestation of their thoughts. The first one didn't work out, so they decided to add negative emotions, self hatred, so the evil entity could be fed by these, to strengthen their connection. Amanda thought to add an adulterous relationship with her mother into his story.
Then they've created James, in the restaurant. He even gets a birthday celebration, probably by cult members.
James imagines that there are things in his home. He might not even have a home, as he has to break into the building - if it were really his home, he'd probably have keys.
When he talked to Amanda, that was probably real.
The mother doesn't know James, the police detectives couldn't know him, and the mother doesn't understand what did the guy want, so Amanda probably didn't go missing. So, I assume, the whole investigation sub-plot was imaginary. Including every scene with the mother, the police, the girl's friends, the finding of the bodies.
Some of the happening might have been set up by actors, to give James something to interact with. But I don't think they would kill five kids just to set up a story, because it would make it harder to hide their works.
James went to the Pontifex Institute, but he was there in two copies. One of them on the level of the cultists, and one on the gantry, before being led out by the staff. (I'm still not sure how did he do that.)
The camp scene might have happened, although the disappearance of the stuffed bear makes this doubtful.
He probably really trailed the cultist guys to the hospital. He probably also abducted one of the guys.
Then he went back to the hospital, to shoot the comatose guy, to take his place.
The message of the story
I'm not sure there's one.
The structure of the story
The scenes of the The Empty Man film are mostly played in sequence, following the same storyline. There are some flashes of flashbacks during dreams, and full flashback scenes when retelling previous events.
There's no single viewpoint character.
It has an unusual arc of the dramatic structure - introduction, action, then that part suddenly ends at 20 minutes, and switches to another introduction, action, and a resolution with a twist, that makes most of the story pointless.
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Things I liked
- I liked the concept of the Empty Man, and the cult built around it.
- The scene with the fossilised creature was cool, similar to the Space Jockey scene in Alien.
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How does it compare to the other works of the creators?
I think I haven't seen any other works of the writer / director (David Prior). Up to this movie, he's mostly done documentaries.
How does it compare to the original source?
I don't know, even if I've read some of the issues, I don't remember anything from the graphic novels.
Update: Since then, I've read the The Empty Man (2014), and there's practically no connection between the graphic novels and the movie beyond the title, and some minor references.
The graphic novel is about a man who is unable to move, sense or talk, but has a strong psychic telepathic presence, that he uses to try to connect to people so he won't feel so lone and empty.
The movie is about a Lovecraftian alien / demon-worshipping cult spreading chaos, while trying to create an artificial human who is able to withstand the connection to the demon much longer than a living host does. Not even a single name was retained from the original comics.
The last four issues (The Empty Man 3: Manifestation (2019)) are the closest in theme to the story of the movie, but I'm not sure which version inspired the other.
References to the series:
The Empty Man #1 (2014)
- The leader referencing the humble beginnings of their church.
- "Don't touch me!"
- Mention of a mother feeding her baby to her dogs.
- "The Empty Man made me do it"
- Kids go missing, and the main characters try to find them.
The Empty Man #2 (2014)
- We see a comatose man on a breathing machine. He will be central to the plot.
The Empty Man #3 (2014)
- There's a church built around the Empty Man.
- The speech of the reverend is similar to the one in the movie.
The Empty Man #6 (2014)
- The missing kids are found. They work for the Empty Man.
For the Empty Man 2 references, as they were made concurrently with the movie, I'm not sure which one is referencing the other.
The Empty Man 2 #1 (2018)
- People hanging from a bridge, with "The Empty Man made me do it" written behind them.
- The wall with the woman's writings looks like the diary of Amanda.
- The Empty Man appears as a shadowy figure.
The Empty Man 3 #3 (2019)
- Hand tearing through a skin-like membrane.
The Empty Man 3 #4 (2019)
- Someone taking the place of the Empty Man.
- The meta-physical aspects of the Empty Man is similarly confusing as in the movie.
* * *
I mostly liked the story, I didn't find problems that would have prevented me from enjoying The Empty Man.
The title: The "The Empty Man" doesn't sound very promising, it's just like a regular boogeyman tale. I get it that this was the (not very clever) title of the original comics, but they could have changed it, or at least added something to it. Even if they wanted to mislead the audience, it could have only worked if they started without the long prologue, and got right into the missing girl plot.
The prologue: The prologue itself is a good story, it would have been great as a more longer prequel. The characters look interesting, I would have liked to get to know them better. The story of Paul is also interesting, as he seems to be aware what is happening around him, as he loses his loved ones. A one hour movie could have been easily made from that.
Very long prologue: I've felt the prologue unnecessary, especially as we could get the same information in a short exposition during the actual story. Also, if you are prepared for the boogeyman story hinted by the cover, the taglines and the trailer, you'll be probably confused what's going on.
Introducing the security guy: I didn't realise that the jogging man and the man in the security shop are the same. It would have been good to link the two scenes better.
Lasombra's name: I find it unlikely that there would be people called Lasombra (Spanish: The Shadow) out there. If they really wanted to make him look less suspicious, he could have been Smith, or something.
Explaining the bottle thing multiple times: It would have been better if Davara didn't tell it to Lasombra, and we first seen it in the flashback. Then we hear it again, on the recorder, but that's okay, I think it's been enough time since the first one to repeat it.
Nudity: I'm not entirely sure we really needed to see the naked lady.
Connecting the two parts: It would have been good to connect the comatose guy from the beginning with the comatose guy in the hospital a lot earlier. For example, there could be photos of his young self in the hospital, or maybe a painting of the house, just like the one in the institute. At first, it was not clear for me, although I assumed it's him, because who else could it be, but I've read reviews where people didn't get this entirely.
Not real problems: As we later find it out, most of the story was just imagined by the security guy, so these problems are not real, but they've bothered me while watching the movie:
- Lack of help: Why didn't the security guy tell the police about the strange thoughts of the missing girl? It sounded to me like she's into some esoteric cult stuff. It could have helped the investigation.
- Lack of work: Why doesn't the security guy go to work at his shop? Did he close it for the duration of the investigation?
- Leaving evidence: Why does the Empty Man leaves evidence behind himself? Wouldn't it be more efficient if it were harder to connect him to the cult? Also, if it really happened, why does Amanda leave the writing? She was a cultist, she should have just packed, and left without a trace. Probably also taking her diary with her. Also, if the Empty Man is not really real, how does he close the eyes of Davara, and write "Empty Man" on the floor?
The presenter: When he talks to the security, he talks about his return. I assume he's some kind of leader in the cult, so he should know everything about the tulpa, and he should probably be more careful around him.
The cult: If they are so open about their relationship to the Empty Man, and there are Empty Man related writings at murder scenes, why doesn't the police connect them to the murders? (If those murders and writings are actually happening, and not just imagined by the guy.)
- What actually happened in the end?
- Were all of the guy's interactions with people just hallucinations?
- What is the significance of 3:03 AM? We see it multiple times, when the guy wakes up exactly at that time. He also kills the previous Empty Man at 3:03.
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Possibilities of improvement
- Cut the prologue with the mounting climbing group. Probably add some of that in some exposition scene later in the movie.
- Start the movie with the restaurant scene. Then he could go jogging, then go to work, to establish the character.
- Cut the part where Davara explains what do they need to do to summon the Empty Man. It will be told again in a few minutes, in the flashback.
- Cut the sauna scene. It didn't fit the rest of the movie, and didn't add to the story anyway.
How it could have been better?
Probably being edited into two distinct movies would have been useful for this story. The first one with the mountain climbing group is so unrelated to the second part that I don't feel it has place in the story of James.
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Behind the scenes
The writer said he always intended to write the story around the realisation of the guy that he's a tulpa. That's a fine concept, but as it doesn't have anything to do with the The Empty Man graphic novels, I can't really understand how did he get there.
Thoughts about the reviews of others
* * *
- There's an evil entity that wants to take over the world.
- There are people who can receive messages from an entity.
- The finding of the alien skeleton can be used to show a similar thing happening.
- When the police inspects the house of the missing girl, it can be used to depict such an inspection.
- If you want to have some kind of story built on an imaginary fiend, the flashback with the bottle blowing could be used to show how things started.
- When the girl kills herself in the sauna, it's a good way to show how hallucinations can lead to self inflicted harm.
- The look of the alien skeleton looks good.
Attack the cult: The defender is a cult, lead by a transcendental person, allowing the cultist access to magic. The defender sets up the playing area, including a shrine that hides the leader. Then the defender deploys their units anywhere on the playing area. The leader is a frail man, who is unable to move, and he's tied to the shrine, so he can't be moved. The defender units are all regular civilians, without armour, and armed with small and weak weapons. They are fanatics (they don't need to test for Morale). As long as the leader is alive, the fanatics are allowed to re-roll every test once. Then the attacker sets up their units on the edges of the playing area. The attacker wins if they kill the leader, while more than half of their models are alive. The defender wins if they defend their leader, while killing more than half of the attacker models.
Limited abilities (harder for the defender): The leader is not as strong. Every turn he allows N re-rolls. If it's used with "Affecting the attackers", it can be used from the same pool as the defender re-rolls, or the defender can have to distinct pools to use.
Affecting the attackers (harder for the attacker): The leader is able to force re-rolls on the attackers tests.
Spreading the cult: A cult tries to take over the defender's base. The defender sets up the playing area, including a defensible building. The defender sets up their forces anywhere on the playing area. Then the attacker deploys the cultist on any edges of the playing area. The cultists are more numerous than the defenders, but they don't wear armour, and they don't have access to heavy weapons. When a cultist rolls a success on close combat, they are able to whisper magical words into the ears of their victims. The victims need to test their skills or Morale. On a success, they are out of play for a turn, as they combat the effect. On a failed test, they fall unconscious, getting out of the game. On a critical failure, they fall under the influence of the attacker. Put a marker on the models. Every time the attacker wants to activate it, they need to roll d6, on a 1, the model do any kind of actions, on 1-3, the model can be moved, on a 4-6, the model doesn't do anything. The attacker wins if they take the defender's base. The defender wins if they are able to repel the attack, while more than half of their units are still alive.
Miniatures - 1/50-1/60 (28-32mm scale)
The Empty Man: Large humanoid in robes.
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Koji Suzuki: Ringu / Ring series (1991, 1995, 1998): There's a curse that affects people. It spreads worldwide. Every book in the series is in a distinctly different genre. There's a twist in the end, making you rethink the whole series.
Akira (1982-1990): In a futuristic setting, a man with psychic powers causes deaths. He needs to be defeated to save the world.
The Empty Man #1-6 (2014): The comics this movie was based on.
The Empty Man 2: Recurrence #1-4 (2018-2019): The sequel to the original comics.
The Empty Man 3: Manifestation #1-4 (2019): The sequel to the original comics.
Akira (1988): In a futuristic setting, a man with psychic powers causes deaths. He needs to be defeated to save the world. Based on the Akira graphic novels.
The Sixth Sense (1999): A psychologist tries to help a kid. There's a twist in the end, making you rethink the whole movie.
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Is the The Empty Man film based on a book or comics?
Yes, The Empty Man is very loosely based on the The Empty Man comics. The connection is so loose, it's basically just the title that was used.
Is the The Empty Man film a remake or reboot?
No, the The Empty Man film is neither a remake nor a reboot.
Is there a post credit scene in The Empty Man? Does The Empty Man have end credit scenes?
No, there's no post credit scene in The Empty Man.
Where can I see The Empty Man? What is The Empty Man playing on? What streaming service is The Empty Man on? Where can I watch The Empty Man online? Is The Empty Man available on Netflix? Is The Empty Man on Amazon?
As of 2022.01.20, The Empty Man is available on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, HBO Max, Hulu, Microsoft Movies, Vudu.
Will there be The Empty Man 2?
While the end of The Empty Man sets up the possibility of a sequel, based on its performance at the box office, and the changes in the owners of the studio, I find it unlikely they'll make it.
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20th Century Studio: The Empty Man: Official article.
IMDB: The Empty Man (2020): Database article.
WikiPedia: The Empty Man (film): Database article.
Letterboxd: The Empty Man 2020: Database article.
Rotten Tomatoes: The Empty Man 2020: Database article.
TVTropes: Film / The Empty Man: Database article.
: Concept art article.¤
Reviews with no spoilers - The Empty Man film (2020)
Mike and Jay (for RedLetterMedia): Half in the Bag: 2021 Catch-Up (part 2 of 2): Review video about the The Empty Man film with no spoilers.¤
Conor McShane (for Morbidly Beautiful): Reel Review: The Empty Man (2020): Review article about the The Empty Man film with minor spoilers.¤
Reviews with spoilers - The Empty Man film (2020)
: Review article of the The Empty Man movie, with spoilers. Includes a very detailed plot summary.¤
Analysis - The Empty Man movie (2020)
: Analysis video, explaining the finale of The Empty Man.¤
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Have you seen the The Empty Man film? How do you like the movie? Would you recommend it to others? Do you know reviews or resources you'd like to add? What further thoughts do you have about it? Tell your opinion in the comments!