The sad truth about cinema is that some exceptional movies go completely unnoticed upon their initial releases, primarily due to a lack of funding for marketing and promotion. Some releases are fortunate to be rediscovered and celebrated by dedicated audiences later, with 2020’s The Empty Man being the prime example of such a release, as this supernatural horror gained a cult following once it reached streaming platforms, such as Hulu.
The Empty Man is an overlooked horror movie streaming now on Hulu.
Based on a graphic novel by Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey, The Empty Man is a slow-burning supernatural thriller horror that follows James Lasombra (the shadow in Spanish; it’s a play on words), a former police officer turned private investigator portrayed by James Badge Dale. Grieving the death of his wife, Allison, and their son, Henry, who died in a car accident a year before the film’s setting, James is entangled in a mysterious case involving a group of teenagers who have gone missing after performing a strange urban ritual.
The ritual involved is a take on a well-known Bloody Mary trope, in which you do something to summon an evil spirit. Then it kills whoever summoned it, along with everyone else even remotely connected to the ritual. The whole case gets James involved in an investigation of a cult.
The Empty Man ultimately explores and exploits the concept of belief, guilt, and existential dread within a supernatural horror context to tell its unconventional narrative.
The movie’s narrative exposes his dark secrets, which descend further into absolute madness by all standards of horror, diverging from the previously mentioned Bloody Mary trope into something entirely different. This plot twist sets The Empty Man apart from the rest of the genre.
The Empty Man ultimately explores and exploits the concept of belief, guilt, and existential dread within a supernatural horror context to tell its unconventional narrative. This is particularly true towards the film’s end, when the narrative takes a rather ambitious plot twist, leaving the audiences with plenty of things to discuss and dissect following the screening. Unfortunately, the movie had a somewhat troubled release, as it was launched in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic after it had already suffered several delays.
As previously mentioned, the release strategy and a lackluster marketing campaign further contributed to The Empty Man’s underwhelming box office performance, and the movie ended up making a mere $4.8 million instead of a $16 million budget. The pandemic further limited the film’s potential audience, with many viewers opting for streaming services over a theatrical experience. But great releases always surface back up, proving that movies like The Empty Man need time to find their audiences.
Not only did The Empty Man manage to captivate those who discovered it, but it also became a cult classic quickly, birthing whole online communities dedicated to discussing the film’s meaning and its enigmatic, captivating narrative. Even critics began noticing the unique qualities associated with The Empty Man, often calling it “an enigmatic and cerebral take on the genre,” due to the film’s blend of supernatural elements and psychological horror that sat well with the audiences looking for more than cheap thrills, and typical horror tropes—though it began as one.
Not only did The Empty Man manage to captivate those who discovered it, but it also became a cult classic quickly, birthing whole online communities dedicated to discussing the film’s meaning and its enigmatic, captivating narrative.
Considering that the horror genre has been exhausted, with most horror movies now focusing on quick thrills, jump scares, and gore, The Empty Man stands out as a slow-burning, rather intellectual horror. It doesn’t spoon-feed its audience cheap thrills and jump scares, but it rewards its patient viewers with existential dread and layers of fear that linger long after the stream or the silver screening has ended. And it’s precisely this approach that has led to its enduring and growing appeal among those who seek horror experiences with substance.
The Empty Man, along with films such as 1982’s Blade Runner, 1999’s Fight Club, 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, and 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption—which, believe it or not, underperformed initially before achieving a cult status for its powerful story and performances—is a testament to the idea that great films can sometimes be overlooked in their initial release. Fortunately for The Empty Man, modern streaming platforms continue to provide a second chance for hidden gems to find their audiences.
For those interested in a horror movie that offers profound questions and fresh frights, The Empty Man is currently streaming on Hulu.