David Prior Interview: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Director David Prior discusses Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, his love for “The Autopsy” short story, and The Empty Man‘s release.

Grant Hermanns
November 2, 2022
ScreenRant

Some bodies are more than meet the eye, as seen in the “The Autopsy” installment of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Based on Michael Shea‘s short story of the same name, the episode sees a coroner brought in to do the autopsies of several miners who died when one of them set off an explosion with a mysterious object, only to learn of the surprising truth behind him.

F. Murray Abraham and Luke Roberts lead the cast of “The Autopsy“, which hails from The Empty Man writer-director David Prior. Primarily set in an isolated location, the episode is a chilling game of mental chess as Abraham’s Dr. Carl Winters grapples with the revelation of why the miners died, and how he may be next.

In anticipation of its premiere, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with director David Prior to discuss Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, his installment “The Autopsy,” his and del Toro’s shared love of reading, The Empty Man‘s mishandled release, and more.

Read the full interview

Watch Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities on Netflix

Director David Prior’s ‘The Autopsy’ Is an Instant Horror Classic

The Empty Man” director discusses his masterful entry in Netflix’s “Cabinet of Curiosities” anthology series and its creative debts to Guillermo Del Toro, “The Exorcist,” and H.R. Giger.

Steve Greene
October 27, 2022
IndieWire

[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” Episode 3, “The Autopsy.”]

A little while ago, director David Prior got an unexpected gift. A package showed up in the mail. Inside was a tiny figurine of a bearded man.

“I got it in the mail before I even knew what it was. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s nice. A little souvenir. Did Guillermo whittle this himself?’” Prior said. “I assumed it was Dr. Winters when I got it.”

Dr. Winters is the main character in “The Autopsy,” the episode of the Netflix series “Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” that Prior directed. In this version of Michael Shea’s short story, adapted with the help of screenwriter David S. Goyer, Winters is called on to help an investigation into what local police believe is a tragic mining explosion. By the time he gets a chance to examine the bodies pulled from the wreckage, Winters discovers that something about those deaths wasn’t exactly natural.

But as Prior discovered when he watched the completed episode, the small statue was of him, not his protagonist. In each of the “Cabinet of Curiosities” installments, Del Toro continues in the tradition of past anthology hosts with a short introduction. Each ends with him tipping his hat to the director of the episode audiences are about to see, with their figurine likeness front and center.

That kind of onscreen salute is far from the support that Prior’s debut feature, “The Empty Man,” got when it was released almost exactly two years before. A victim of studio merger jockeying, a theatrical distribution model in chaos, and a whole host of marketing bungles, “The Empty Man” took a groundswell of devoted fan support to gradually reach the audience it deserved.

The Autopsy” doesn’t have quite the immense and global scope of that debut feature, but the same meticulous, precise spirit of Prior’s visual storytelling comes through. It’s a detective story of a different kind, with Winters (played by F. Murray Abraham) bringing a key emotional match to the jargon-heavy work of his profession. What this doctor finds is beyond the anatomical puzzle he expected.

And it’s another story that marries the technical craft of unsettling audiences (split fingernails! corpses in bags covered in insects!) with heady thematic ideas about what life is worth and how to spend it. From the mine explosion set piece to the insert shot of whiskey splashing into a coffee mug, everything in “The Autopsy” serves a purpose. Prior spoke with IndieWire about the process of joining a horror playground in progress and adding another impressive tale to his own collection.

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A Complete Autopsy of ‘The Autopsy’

Breaking down David Prior’s episode of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

John DiLillo
Tudum (Netflix)

Watch Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities on Netflix

85 Queen: Adam Nayman on David Fincher

Mallory Andrews
January 31, 2022
Kitchener Public Library (YouTube)

Author and Film Critic Adam Nayman returns to Kitchener Public Library to discuss his latest book David Fincher: Mind Games.

David Fincher: Mind Games is the definitive critical and visual survey of the Academy Award– and Golden Globe–nominated works of director David Fincher. From feature films Alien 3, Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, and Mank through his MTV clips for Madonna and the Rolling Stones and the Netflix series House of Cards and Mindhunter, each chapter weaves production history with original critical analysis, as well as with behind the scenes photography, still-frames, and original illustrations from Little White Lies‘ international team of artists and graphic designers. Mind Games also features interviews with Fincher’s frequent collaborators, including Jeff Cronenweth, Angus Wall, Laray Mayfield, Holt McCallany, Howard Shore and Erik Messerschmidt.

Grouping Fincher’s work around themes of procedure, imprisonment, paranoia, prestige and relationship dynamics, Mind Games is styled as an investigation into a filmmaker obsessed with investigation, and the design will shift to echo case files within a larger psychological profile.

Director David Prior Talks ‘The Empty Man,’ ‘Voir’ & Netflix Becoming “Custodians To The Cinematic Experience”

Andrew Bundy
November 5, 2021
The Playlist

There’s a specificity of intention to David Prior’s “The Empty Man” that eludes most studio horror projects. Inspired by the Boom Studios! comic (created by writer Cullen Bunn and artist Vanessa del Rey), Prior’s debut could have been a success story were the movie released under different circumstances. Inherited by Disney following the Fox merger, and dumped into theaters mid-pandemic, “The Empty Man” certainly wasn’t given the A24 Ari Aster treatment, which is a shame, as Prior’s film would make an outstanding, grief-tinged double feature with “Midsommar” or “Hereditary,” though its shape is far more chimerically hypnotic. 

Laying somewhere in the cosmic ether between David Fincher’s serial killer films, “Se7en” and “Zodiac,” Prior’s sepulchral vision slithers like a paranormal odyssey in the guise of a J-horror procedural a la Kiyoshi Kurasawa’s “Cure,” veteran character actor James Badge Dale aiding in making detective work look effortless through a mesmerizing lead performance. “We go looking for things we have lost… More than that, there is no such thing as loss,” a mysterious cult leader, played by Stephen Root, preaches

Audiences missed out on “The Empty Man,” but it’s deservedly found a devoted following. “If the price of making the movie I wanted to make meant getting abandoned by the studio and left to be picked up by passionate people who saw it on their own, that’s not a bad outcome.” Prior told us, “At least it’s the movie I wanted to make. It wasn’t some highly compromised, shortened, messed up version of that probably would have gotten more support from the studio but it would have vanished from everybody’s mind as soon as they saw it.”

Prior was later approached by David Fincher (for whom he used to direct documentaries) about a new film appreciation series, titled “Voir.” Scheduled to debut at AFI Fest this month, Netflix’s video essay project spotlights “passionate voices that love movies… highlighting the elements that get people excited about cinema.”

In a time when streaming services threaten to swallow up the theatrical experience, “Voir” is an essential look back at what makes film uniquely hypnotic. “Movies cornered the cultural conversation throughout the 20th century.” Prior told us. “It was the art form of the 20th century… [movies] don’t hold the same place in cultural thinking they used to and there’s a lot that’s important being lost.”

No great film deserves to be forgotten, and Prior is keenly aware platforms like Netflix now hold the keys to Hollywood’s kingdom, as “custodians to the cinematic experience.” “The Empty Man,” may not have mopped up box office dollars but revealed its director to be as impassioned and skilled a filmmaking scholar as David Fincher. We were fortunate to sit down for an extensive chat with him ahead of “Voir’s” upcoming premiere. Eerily, both his debut film and new Netflix series stemming from an obsession with Jaws,” the legendary Steven Spielberg, a fervent supporter of his film appreciation project.

Read the full interview

Extended Clip Podcast: David Prior

Eddie
September 13, 2021
Extended Clip (Patreon, Twitter)

My interview with the director of The Empty Man, AM1200, and many of your favorite DVD bonus features, David Prior.

Malcolm and JT were kicked out of the studio for this one — The Empty Man made me do it!

Listen to the podcast:

Apple Podcasts
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Everything Zen: David Prior on “The Empty Man”

James Badge Dale and Sasha Frolova

David Prior’s creepy and impeccably crafted directorial debut was abandoned by the studio but has since been embraced by now devoted fans.

Adam Nayman
May 3, 2021
Notebook (MUBI)

Over and again throughout The Empty Man, we see characters sitting in the lotus position, cross-legged and attentive,  a pose connoting receptivity. It is in the migration of this mindset from snowy Bhutan to small-town Missouri, muled from East to West by the unlucky occidental tourist who doubles as its title character,  that David Prior’s film locates both its celestial sense of scale and a fine-grained gestural specificity. After literally stumbling into a cliffside cavern—the first unexpected plunge in a movie whose characters constantly find themselves either on shaky ground or descending into a darkness of their own volition—Paul (Aaron Poole) becomes transfixed by a skeletal figure whose meditative posture he adopts, seemingly permanently and much to the bewilderment of his fellow backpackers. Dragged back to the surface, he has become a husk, limbs locked and rapidly atrophying, staring out at the world with eyes wide shut. It would seem that he’s been hollowed out. Or is he suddenly full up?

The old Zen proverb about the philosopher who tells his overzealous visitor to return to him with an empty cup—the better to receive the flow of wisdom—comes eerily to mind in the image of a hiker mutated into a hapless Buddha. The story lying beyond The Empty Man’s gorgeous anamorphic frames is also akin to a kind of koan: if a great cosmic horror movie gets (barely) released in the middle of a global pandemic, and nobody sees it, does it really exist? 

Read the full review and interview

Interview: David Prior, The Empty Man’s Director

March 25, 2021
ELDERFANFILMS

Today, I’ve got the honor to post the interview I did to David Prior; who After being in charge of production video documentaries and have worked alongside nothing other than David Fincher, arrives with his horror film The Empty Man, making his directorial debut. The Empty Man is based on the Boom Graphic Novel called the same way. David, Tells us the unfortunate fate his movie went through all due bad management and bad luck to be in the middle of a transition between companies, addition to that, the company launched a misleading trailer, transforming the movie in another weird horror teenage movie, totally opposite of twist-thrilling horror film. The Empty Man is a top notch production with a great cast and crew team. The film got to us on October 23, 2020 in theaters and on Digital on January 12, 2021.

The director also shared with us the film creation process, the rocks he had to apart away from his path to get the film off the ground, his insights and learnings from all this exhausting but comforting filmmaking labor.

Read the full interview

BETA (WPR): Writer, Director David Prior On The Horrors of Making ‘The Empty Man’

Stephen Root and James Badge Dale

Despite Trials And Tribulations, The Film Has Earned Great Reviews.

Doug Gordon
May 29, 2021
BETA (WPR)

David Prior got his break directing DVD special features for such David Fincher films as “Zodiac” and “The Social Network.” He obviously drew on that work experience in writing and directing his debut horror feature film, “The Empty Man.”

“Any time you spent hanging around the set with David Fincher or Peter Weir or any number of the other people that I’ve been able to hang around the set with, it’s always going to be valuable,” Prior said.

The Empty Man” focuses on an ex-detective named James Lasombra. James is grieving the deaths of his wife and son. He helps his friend Nora whose daughter has gone missing.

James’s investigation leads him to a sinister organization called The Pontifex Institute, which turns out to be a cult. The film stars James Badge Dale, and chameleon-like actor Stephen Root who delivers a great performance as the cult’s leader. 

The movie also became embroiled in a mega media merger that delayed and botched its release. “The Empty Man” features an impending sense of dread and doom and themes of guilt, grief, the meaning of existence and mind control. Prior explains to WPR‘s “BETA” why he wanted to include such big ideas in his film.

Read and listen to the full interview

Watch The Empty Man

The Nick Taylor Horror Show: The Empty Man, Writer/Director David Prior

Nick Taylor (Twitter)
April 1, 2021
The Nick Taylor Horror Show

David Prior is an American writer and director who made his feature directorial debut with The Empty Man, an epic in the world of horror, one of the most criminally overlooked horror movies of 2020, and one of the most ambitious horror movies of recent years . It has the scope and execution of a Chris Nolan movie while mixing elements of cults, quantum horror, and creepypastas into an extremely unique mythology that is all its own.

The story behind the making of The Empty Man is very harrowing. In the middle of shooting in South Africa, it was temporarily shut down due to weather conditions, during which a key studio executive who greenlit the film left the studio, essentially leaving the movie abandoned. If that wasn’t enough, once the movie finally got finished, David had to endure a series of calamities, including negative test screenings and studio interference which kept the movie in limbo for years. If that wasn’t enough, once the movie was finally released, it was in theatres during the height of the pandemic only to get largely negative Rotten Tomato reviews (which were very unjust) and thus be completely buried.

However, as of the past few weeks, The Empty Man has been seeing a major resurgence as a number of outspoken critics have been singing the praises of the movie and thus causing it to get the attention it deserves. The story behind The Empty Man brings to light the many issues that can befall a movie but also shows the power of the internet to champion a movie when it belongs in the spotlight. I’m personally thrilled that The Empty Man is getting the viewership that it has been; it’s a must-see, and I’m convinced it will be considered a horror epic for years to come.

In this conversation with David, we got into the whole story behind The Empty Man, his directorial processes, and what he learned observing directors like David Fincher, Tim Burton, and Peter Weir when he visited them on set while producing special features for multiple DVD titles. All of this and so much more on today’s episode of The Nick Taylor Horror Show.

Read the full article and listen to the podcast:

The Nick Taylor Horror Show
Apple Podcasts
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YouTube
Stitcher
Audible (Amazon)

Watch The Empty Man

The Empty Man Is the Next Great Cult Horror Film

Vulture Recommends

Tres Dean
April 6, 2021
Vulture

Between the global pandemic, studio mergers, and the overwhelming onslaught of content flooding streaming services, it has never been easier for a movie to slip through the cracks. Years from now, we will no doubt look back on an entire generation of great films that were lost to the ever-shifting chaos of the industry over these past few years. What does feel safe to say is that when we are discussing the great works lost to this strange time, 2020’s The Empty Man will be in the conversation.

If you’re interested in the details of its tumultuous production, director David Prior has been remarkably candid about the process in recent interviews: 1, 2, 3. Long story short: The film, a very loose adaptation of Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey’s comic series of the same name, was marred by reshoots, recuts, the FoxDisney merger, a constantly shifting release date, and losing its original producer in the middle of production. After sitting on a shelf for years, it was tossed into theaters in the middle of the pandemic, grossed a paltry $4 million worldwide, and was quickly forgotten. It is currently only available to rent via Amazon, and as of the writing of this story, there are no plans for a DVD/Blu-ray release.

To be fair, even if theaters were open for business as usual, one could be forgiven for chalking The Empty Man up as skippable after its first trailer, which, in one of the more damning marketing moves in recent memory, dropped about a week before the film hit theaters. The film’s borderline nonexistent marketing paints the James Badge Dale vehicle as a sort of Slender Man–adjacent creepypasta horror, the sort of bland Blumhouse rip-off designed to come and go with as little noise as possible. Its initial critical reception was middling at best, though it even went underseen in that respect — its current 50 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes is based on 14 official reviews. It’s the sort of perfect storm that renders a film nonexistent in the cultural consciousness.

And that’s a shame, because The Empty Man very much warrants a place there.

Read the full article

Watch The Empty Man