Before we dig into Paul Verhoven’s tale of transparent tension I’m going to do something a little different – I’m going to tell you a true story.
Back in the year 2000 I actually worked in a cinema when Hollow Man was playing and on one particular day I happened to find myself working at the ticket desk when a gentleman came in and politely asked for two tickets. Nothing out of the ordinary there but it turned out that the man was blind – nothing too odd there either as the second ticket was for his friend who would talk him through the on screen action – but I found his choice of movie fascinating. Picture it: a man who cannot see is excited to experience a movie in which the lead character cannot be seen – and further still; a lot of money had been spent so you can see the effects the man who cannot be seen has on his surroundings which is the major selling point of the movie, which this man cannot see. The irony was so immense to me that I was obsessed with the whole thing for ages, turning over and over in my mind and I think about it a lot, even to this day…
Why did I tell you any of this? Well, because that story has stuck with me far longer than the film that inspired it has and that’s the major problem with Hollow Man. A film made by the man that turned out a near unbroken string of unforgettable movies for various reasons (Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Starship Troopers have all made an impact one way or another), Verhoven’s exercise in sci-fi schlock, despite featuring some cracking effects, was frankly unforgivable in it’s blandness.
However as time has gone on, this serving of invisible insanity has proven to have been somewhat ahead of it’s time with some of it’s themes proving to be horribly prevalent as the years tick by.
Cinematic legend and EE poster boy Kevin Bacon stars as Sebastian Caine, an egotistical butthat who has cracked the formula to turn a gorilla as invisible as a bag full of John Cenas for the military. However, dutifully staying true to the legions of asshole scientists that have preceded him in every “science run amuck” movie ever made, he lies to his team and financial backers and pushes ahead for human testing with himself as the charming and chiselled Guinea pig.
The good news is the procedure works, the bad news is that they can’t manage to make him visible again and the worst news is as Sebastian undergoes test after harrowing test to figure out what went wrong, his sanity starts to fray and his behavior gets ever more inappropriate.
As his colleagues remain unaware of Sebastian’s growing impulse control problem and his ego and paranoia join hands and shoots through the bloody roof; the see-through psycho plots to wage war on everyone involved with the project with fatal results. But then, as the man himself says: it’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror…
Labeled ironically shallow when first released, Hollow Man over the years has slowly become more relevant what with the timesup and metoo movement exposing people with power who feel they can do whatever they want unseen in plain sight. Christian is a highly sexed character to begin with but as his monstrous sense of ego grows as his sanity spirals, his ” harmless jokes” of goosing people become infinitely more damaging as he moves on to molesting a co-worker while she sleeps and then inevitably moves on to outright rape.
I realise that sticking a “male with power violently enforces his will on women” label on a psycho sexual sci-fi thriller is hardly game changing but you have to admit it’s depressingly revelant.
Also holding up fairly well to a modern viewing are the truly (at the time) groundbreaking visuals which bend over backwards to painstakingly show the effects a Kevin Bacon vacuum has on it’s surroundings and it’s still pretty impressive despite the same effects subsequently popping up in an episode of Smallville. Whether appearing as some kind of terrifying wraith after being drenched in blood or having his face suddenly appear out of cigar smoke, the film is constantly coming up with varied ways to not show you Kevin Bacon and it doesn’t get samey.
It’s just a shame the film chooses to take a substandard “trapped with a psycho” route for it’s final third where Sebastian seals everyone in the underground lab and starts picking them off like flies and while it features some fairly impressive violence (the rude introduction of Greg Grunberg’s jugular to a jutting piece of pipe never fails to get a violent recoil out of me) and the creepy realisation that Bacon’s character is constantly nude and therefore is slaughtering everyone with his schlong out (one scene bestows Bacon’s wiener flapping in the wind in “glorious” infrared), it mostly feels far too hackneyed for an auteur like Paul Verhoven.
Bacon predictably rocks it and the rest of the cast (which includes the always dependable Elizabeth Shue and a Thanos-in-waiting Josh Brolin) perform well to what must have been a ridiculous looking on-set Bacon painted all sorts of colours but a special nod gies to Fear The Walking Dead’s Kim Dickens whose disturbing and memorable scene involving a VERY inappropriate bad touch haunts despite being creepily ridiculous.
But even though the film flings the odd arresting image at you (Sebastian’s rubber mask with it’s yawning empty eye sockets is incredibly effective) it feels oddly at half strength – even the usually energetic Jerry Goldman turns in a suprisingly forgettable score.
Slick, professional, but strictly
perfunctorily, Verhoven’s final american film (to date) is a disappointment and ends up being a great example of being out of sight, out of mind….