The Empty Man is a 2020 American supernatural horror thriller film written, directed, and edited by David Prior, based on Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey’s graphic novel of same name published by Boom! Studios. The film stars James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland, Stephen Root, Ron Canada, Robert Aramayo, Joel Courtney, and Sasha Frolova. It follows an ex-cop who, upon an investigation into a missing girl, discovers a secret cult.
In the Ura Valley, Bhutan in 1995; four friends — Greg, Fiona, Ruthie, and Paul — go hiking on a mountain. Paul hears something calling to him and falls in a crevice while investigating. Greg finds Paul in a catatonic state, staring at a strange skeleton. The group carries Paul out and Greg takes him to a refuge at an empty house as a snowstorm hits. The next day, Ruthie encounters a strange figure outside. That night, Paul whispers something into Ruthie’s ear. The next day, Paul goes missing. The group finds him in the snow next to the bridge they crossed. Ruthie becomes dazed before stabbing Greg and slicing Fiona’s throat and throwing their bodies over the cliff. She shares an entranced look with Paul before throwing herself off too.
In Missouri 2018, former detective James Lasombra works at a security store and is grieving the death of his wife Allison and their son Henry who died in a car accident a year ago. He is friends with a local woman called Nora and the pair are alarmed when Nora’s daughter Amanda seemingly runs away. The pair find a message written in blood in the bathroom saying “The Empty Man made me do it”. The police start an investigation. James tracks down Amanda’s friend Devara and quizzes her.
Devara reveals that a couple nights ago, Devara, Amanda and their friends Brandon, Lisa, Julianne, Meyer, and Duncan were encouraged by Amanda to summon the Empty Man, a local legend. Amanda claims that on the first day, they will hear The Empty Man, the second day they will see him and on the third day, he will find them. They do the ritual and Devara later witnesses Amanda whispering into Brandon’s ear. That night, Devara is attacked by The Empty Man who kills her with a pair of scissors and makes it seem like she killed herself. James is unable to track down the rest of Amanda’s friends and investigates the bridge they were on. He blows into the bottle they used to summon The Empty Man before finding the hanged bodies of Brandon, Lisa, Julianne, Meyer, and Duncan with the same message written in blood that was found in Amanda’s house, ‘The empty man made me do it’.
Police retrieve the bodies of the teens. James researches the Pontifex Institute, discovering it is a cult that has beliefs originating from places like Bhutan, and Tulpas on Wikipedia. He hears The Empty Man that night and is besieged by nightmares. He travels to the institute and sits in on a talk by cult leader Arthur Parsons. Speaking to Parsons, James is alarmed at the leader’s references to The Empty Man, claiming him to be an entity that provides his followers with what they want as long as they do his bidding.
James begins to see The Empty Man. He follows cult members and investigates a cabin in the woods where he finds files on Amanda, her friends, Paul from the mountain expedition, and himself. He also witnesses the cult performing a fire ritual. He is spotted and pursued by the cult but escapes. He informs the police, who are unable to do anything due to lack of evidence. James suspects that Amanda is now a member of the cult and informs Nora that she isn’t safe. He takes Nora to a hotel to hide out. It is revealed that the pair were having an affair and he was with Nora when Allison and Henry died.
Suffering from increased hallucinations, James ambushes cult member Garrett and asks him what is happening. Garrett claims that there is a man in the hospital that The Empty Man is transmitting to the cult from. James rushes to the hospital and discovers that the man is actually Paul, who is in a comatose state and regularly visited by cult members to get messages from The Empty Man. He finds Amanda in Paul’s hospital room and she explains that Paul is dying from the strain of having The Empty Man in him and the cult needs a new vessel. She reveals that James is a tulpa, a new vessel for The Empty Man, who is a blank slate with all his memories and relationships created by the cult. He never existed beyond the timespan the audience met him from. Refusing to believe this, James calls Nora, who has no idea who he is.
The Empty Man possesses James and takes him to a dreamlike world where he fully takes over James’ body. The possessed James executes Paul before leaving the hospital room where cult members bow to him as their new Empty Man.
James Badge Dale as James Lasombra
Marin Ireland as Nora Quail
Stephen Root as Arthur Parsons
Ron Canada as Detective Villiers
Robert Aramayo as Garrett
Joel Courtney as Brandon Maibum
Sasha Frolova as Amanda Quail
Samantha Logan as Davara Walsh
Aaron Poole as Paul
Adam Ferguson as Tulpa
Owen Teague as Duncan West
Evan Jonigkeit as Greg
Tanya van Graan as Allison Lasombra
Robert Coutts as The Empty Man
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