Additional Bite-Sized Reviews, Mar. ’21: ‘The Empty Man’ and ‘Servant’

Tony Revolori and Toby Kebbell in “Servant,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

In this edition of my monthly movie and television catch-up article series titled ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews,’ I recommend an underseen horror film that I, however, have mixed feelings on, and then I tell you about my experience of watching the second season of Apple TV+’s Servant, which, I thought, didn’t advance the plot all that much.


  • What are Additional Bite-Sized Reviews?
    – My monthly movie and television catch-up review series ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews‘ is an evolution of the Overview-article section previously titled ‘What I Didn’t Write About.’ I was originally inspired by film critic Peter Sobczynski’s article series ‘Films I Neglected to Review,’ wherein he writes short, or brief, reviews of films that he hasn’t had the time to write full reviews about. Therefore, in articles such as this one, I will provide my readers with my thoughts on select films, shows, and even classics that I feel like giving my thoughts on, even though I don’t have the time to dedicate thorough reviews to them.
  • Why do the bite-sized reviews not include either a letter grade or a review score?
    – In my full and thorough reviews, I like to score or grade what I watch. But since these reviews aren’t as detailed, I think it is fairer to the films and shows to simply just decide whether or not to recommend them. I guess you could say this is the only type of review that is basically ‘scored’ with the classic thumbs-up/thumbs-down-method on my site.

The Empty Man | Film | Dir. David Prior | Screenplay and Story by David Prior | Release Year: 2020 | Seen on: VOD | Recommended?: Yes, but.

David Prior’s The Empty Man, which is based on a comic book series of the same name, was released in the United States in October 2020, but, even though I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of what films are released by the major studios, this 20th Century Studios film flew under my radar. So, when I first started hearing about this movie a couple of weeks ago, I was a little bit shocked by the fact that I had no idea what this was, and it intrigued me that, apparently, a surprising amount of people who I follow on social media really dug this movie. So, on a whim, I bought it on video-on-demand, and watched it twice over the course of probably 24 hours.

So, I guess you could say that I liked it enough to rewatch it almost immediately and that is true. But while this is a recommendation, I am more intrigued by the movie than I loved it. Lars Von Trier once said, that a good film is ‘like a rock in your shoe.’ And while I don’t know if I would classify it as a good movie, it definitely feels like a ‘rock in my shoe,’ so to speak. There are many things I like about it, and I think — perhaps with a rewrite or some additional reshoots — this could’ve been a cult classic-in-the-making that I genuinely loved. I’m just not quite there yet.

But for the sake of allowing you to possibly fall for this film, I’d rather not tell you too much about the plot, other than to say that it is a film about a private investigator looking into the disappearance of a young woman, who tried to summon a being from an urban legend, known as the ’empty man.’ I would definitely recommend that you don’t know anymore than that before you watch it.

One of the things that this movie has going for it is its opening, which takes place in the mountains of Bhutan. The opening prologue, which almost stands on its own, would’ve been a phenomenal horror short film, as it features startling imagery and tension-building editing. It also doesn’t fall into the trap of relying too much on jump-scares, and I would genuinely consider rewatching the movie just so I can watch this opening prologue again.

There are other standout sequences in the film — like one scene in which the main character (James Badge Dale) watches a group of people run around a massive bonfire — but there is no denying the fact that that opening is the most chilling, atmospheric, and tense sequence in the entire film (there is, however, also a really neat transition shot halfway, or so, into the movie that I really dug). Ultimately, in spite of that excellent opening (and some other great scenes) it feels like the potential of the film is unrealised, in part, due to an ending explanation that just doesn’t work all that well. Although I definitely do not think this is bad film, I do think that it fails to nail the landing on an otherwise very intriguing premise focused on predetermination and mysticism. I would certainly be very interested in seeing what this filmmaker does next.

Servant | Season Two | Created by Tony Basgallop | Release Year: 2021 | Season Length: 10 Episodes | Seen on: Apple TV+ | Recommended?: Yes, but.

For quite some time, Tony Basgallop’s Servant, which is also executively produced by M. Night Shyamalan, was the Apple TV+ show I recommended the most to friends and family, when Ted Lasso was released that all changed. But that’s neither here nor there. What I liked about this show was its creepy premise. The first season of the show was about how the Turners — Dorothy (played by Lauren Ambrose) and Sean (played by Toby Kebbell), a fairly wealthy family situated in Philadelphia — had hired a young nanny, Leanne (played by Nell Tiger Free), to take care of their baby son, Jericho. Only Jericho is no longer alive, and the nanny instead is hired to provide child care for a reborn doll, for the purpose of helping Dorothy, who thinks the reborn doll is actually her son, cope with the situation. Except once Leanne shows up, she acts as if the reborn doll is a real boy, and mysterious things start to happen — including the fact that, all of a sudden, the reborn doll has turned into a baby boy, much to Sean’s shock.

That first season ended with Leanne leaving the family and taking the boy — or whatever magic had made the doll real — with her. So, naturally, Dorothy is distraught in the second season, wherein she becomes obsessed with finding the baby boy that she believes to have been kidnapped by Leanne. However, since the authorities know what happened to Jericho, Sean and his brother-in-law, Julian (played by Rupert Grint), decide to mislead and keep Dorothy quiet, while searching for their missing, mysterious nanny.

The elephant-in-the-room of this show is what really happened to baby Jericho before Leanne walked in the door at the Turner household. However, it also feels like a ticking time bomb for the series this season, as Sean and Julian know exactly what Dorothy would be willing to do, if she knew the truth, while her frantic search for her ‘missing child’ leads authorities and the people around them to ask questions that Sean and Julian can’t answer in front of Dorothy. The end of the previous season pushed that elephant-in-the-room to the forefront, and this season I was disappointed by just how little actually happens to this storyline. The season stops just short of actually discussing the situation in a way that would be satisfying. Actually, that’s basically how I feel about most of this season. Sometimes it feels like the show is stringing you along slowly without a satisfying payoff. At the end of the second season, I didn’t get the answers I wanted as I was watching week-to-week.

I suspect that this season is easier to enjoy when bingewatched, just as I bingewatched the first season and was completely hooked. But week-to-week, the slow-moving plot wasn’t as involving as it had previously been. But there are still a lot of things to like about this show. For one, I think that the main trio of performers — Ambrose, Kebbell, and Grint — are all still very entertaining to watch, with Lauren Ambrose being particularly good this season. Also, the show is still very spooky. However, the tonal shifts this season will not work for everyone. There is a pizza-subplot that feels slightly ridiculous, and, in general, the scenes involving the character played by Boris McGiver are stranger and more oddly comedic than ever. But if you’re willing to go with the tonal tightrope act and accept both the sudden and unexplained appearance of a Betamax tape and the slow-burn horror plot, then this show is still an entertaining watch, even though I think the first season worked much, much better.

– Reviews Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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