Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Hollow Man’ (2000) is an updated take on H.G Wells novel ‘The Invisible Man’ that fully utilizes modern day special effects to create a visual spectacle while maintaining its horror roots. This is the take that’s not afraid to push the violence to near-slasher level, and it’s not afraid to explore the uncomfortable horrors and perversions that one can inflict if the wrong person possessed this ability.
This story focuses on a group of scientists, lead by Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), who are working in a laboratory deep underground as part of a secret government project to create a serum that can make people transparent; becoming invisible to the human eye. As the story begins, the group has already had success with creating a sustainable formula that causes invisibility – tested on various animals – but they struggle with finding the formula to bring them back. That is until the obsessive workaholic Sebastian manages to crack the code during a late night of Twinkies and coffee, and they are finally able to make one of their test subjects visible again. The group celebrates this achievement, but it is not enough for Sebastian, who fears that the government will take over the project. Looking to seize the moment and prolong his own involvement in the project, Sebastian lies to his superiors at the Pentagon, much to the dismay of his colleagues, Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue) and Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin). Reluctantly, and fearful of ramifications this bold move will have on their professional careers, Linda and Matt are persuaded by Sebastian into moving forward with the third phase of the project, which involves human testing, without the proper approval – a secret that the three keep from the other members of the team. Sebastian volunteers to be the human test subject, and after three days of living as the Invisible Man, they attempt to bring him back. But when the formula doesn’t work on the human body, Sebastian finds himself stuck invisible, causing him to lose his sanity and push the boundaries of what he’s capable of doing in his transparent state.
What really makes this movie work for me is the casting of Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Caine. He’s perfectly convincing as this egotistical character with a brilliant mind, and he’s just as convincing when the character becomes morally bankrupt and consumed with his own power. He’s an unlikable character on paper, and yet, there’s a charm to him. He’s a likable asshole, at least with Bacon’s performance. I do feel that there should have been more clarity as to what was really Sebastian and what was a side effect of the serum, though. I would have liked to have seen more of an emphasis on the characters’ internal conflict and mental metamorphosis as he progressed into the antagonist. To elaborate, in the first act he seemed like an arrogant asshole, but still had something human and compassionate about him – he was humble in their first break-through while everyone else cheered – and later in the movie, just before becoming a rapist douche, he considers his actions by saying to himself “Don’t even think about it” and then countering with “Well who’s going to know” – there was a moment there of rational thought, which could have gone deeper – but earlier, on his first night of being invisible he had unbuttoned the shirt and coped a feel of Kim Dickens character while she slept, giving the impression that the character already had those impulses and had already acted on them without a thought. I personally would have loved to see the character grapple with those impulses a bit more, but regardless, Bacon does a great job with the role.
I also liked the supporting characters and actors, and feel that they all had good chemistry together. Although Elisabeth Shue and Josh Brolin got the bulk of screen time as the lead supporting characters who had the most to do within the story, I think this had a solid group of side characters and I bought into them as a team of people who have been working closely together for a period of time.
I have always liked Paul Verhoeven as a Director, and once again him and his then-go-to Director of Photography, Jost Vacano, created a good looking, well shot film. These two definitely know how to shoot action and scenes of peril, and this really shows in the films third act.
Speaking of the visuals, the special effects in this movie are terrific. Even watching this movie earlier today, 19 years after its original release, I still find them to be impressive and feel that they hold up.
Overall, I really like this movie. I think it’s a solid take on the Invisible Man story, and one that I will continue to enjoy for years to come. The script could have been better in certain areas, but it has some strong performances and visuals, and is a worthy take on the material.
What do you think of this movie? Do you like it? Dislike it? Why? Be sure to let us know!