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Monday, 26 September 2016

Retro Review: Hollow Man (2000)

Hollow Man
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth Shue, Josh Brolin
Genre: Science Fiction/ Horror
Worldwide Gross: $190.2 Million 

Plot: The thought of invisibility has intrigued man for centuries. Highly-gifted scientist Sebastian Caine develops a serum that induces complete invisibility. His remarkable transformation results in unimaginable power that seems to suffocate his sense of morality and leads to a furious and frightening conclusion

'Invisible Man Meets Scream Formula That Isn't That Hollow' 

Actor Kevin Bacon nowadays appears in EE mobile phone adverts on British television, happily promoting the service and giving himself something else to do when he's not getting film offers. Yet back in the 1980s up to the early 2000s, he starred in diverse movies such as Footloose, Flatliners, Picture Perfect, Beauty shop,The River Wild and this relatively B- movie thriller, Hollow Man, in addition to being part of the 1980s brat- pack ensemble alongside Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Kiefer Sutherland. 

Bacon is Sebastian: an arrogant and egotistical scientist/researcher, who tests an invisibility serum on himself, despite objections by his co-workers and for a while, everything is fine and dandy. But when they realise they cannot make Sebastian revert back to his normal form and that the serum only works on animals and not humans, he practically goes paranoid and ballistic and begins targeting and terrorising them and killing his co-workers off. Including his old flame, Linda (Elizabeth Shue).

Hollow Man essentially plays out as the Invisible Man meets slasher film. It is a sadistic twist on the Invisible Man premise: take Wes Craven's Scream movies, have it set in a scientific lab and replace the masked killer with an invisible killer. That's the basic idea behind it. Plot-wise, it has more in common with Scream and Alien and its 1986 sequel than it does with Verhoeven's previous efforts, Robocop, Starship Troopers and Basic Instinct. There is also an element reminiscent of Flatliners where a human guinea pig takes part in the experiment, but with Kevin Bacon acting as the guinea pig instead of Kiefer Sutherland. 

The film is interesting in the sense that because it is R-rated, the concept of the invisible man or person provides all sorts of possibilities: what would you do if you were invisible? It would have been all too easy to make the lead character in this film the good guy who becomes invisible because that formula is too typical and somewhat conventional. It's one of those types of questions that gets asked a lot, all of the time by people; but in this film, it literately takes this to the extreme - that being invisible you can do whatever you want, when you want, how you want, without being caught. Likewise, doing bad things and getting involved in adult situations like spying on naked people. & even going as far as killing people.

The movie's theme blurs the lines between morality and immorality and through scopophiliac means. One scene that was cut from the theatrical version, but appears in the director's cut, is when whilst he is invisible, & in such distasteful fashion, Sebastian rapes a woman in her apartment. Verhoeven opts for the unconventional take on the Invisible Man story and adds a voyeuristic dark twist by making Kevin Bacon's character do a heel-face turn on his colleagues. 

During which I was watching this movie, it dawned on me that as despicable and abhorrent Sebastian's actions are and as cocky as he was sometimes, I did actually feel sorry for him to see his ex-girlfriend, of whom he still has feelings for and for showing his undying love for her, in the arms of another man. As much as we shouldn't, or I shouldn't feel a tiny bit of compassion towards Sebastian. 

Elizabeth Shue's character, Linda is both a good and bad thing as Shue handles herself extremely well in the action and physical scenes, who doesn't become intimidated by Bacon's Sebastian's increasing threats. But the love affair between Linda and Matt just came across as being cold and unsympathetic and in reality and effectively, this film killed Shue's Hollywood movie career. I know Linda broke up with Sebastian and she is dating Matt, but even the way she treats Sebastian is as-if not as badly as Sebastian treats her and the other women.

Arguably, all of the characters in this movie were calculating and deceitful. None of them was perfect. And is it just me but for Robocop & Total Recall that through Verhoeven, all of the protagonist characters in his films come across as being wholly amoral and abhorrent or just downright dislikeable? Is this always his intention with his movies to cause rage and resentment towards audiences, or just to give us something to discuss and talk about? Either way, it's the job of filmmakers to create protagonist characters that have interesting personalities, but also flawed and equally sympathetic protagonist characters - & by flawed I mean they have their flaws, but who are willing to work hard to also become better and caring individuals in the end that we want to root for them in the movie. & yet, this is not the case with Linda and Matt. I felt as I was sitting through this movie that it had no intention of making me want to care for them, but rather make those characters screw Sebastian over, just be screwing each other - sexually that is- just to make him mad. That, and that it annoyed me as well. 

Whilst Kevin Bacon goes to lengths and beyond to bring the crazed and sadistic Sebastian Caine to life, even when his character is in CGI mode. This is the most insane performance I have seen of his as the antagonist and he really gave a strong presence to Sebastian that tips that character over the edge, as his mania becomes more of an influence on his psyche. Both Elizabeth Shue and Kevin Bacon had relatively successful careers during the 1980s as young, highly promising stars coming up the ranks and in their performances in this movie, it truly showed that having that leverage of experience as actors, worked in their favour.    

Verhoeven is a director who always pushes the envelope when it comes to sex and violence, yet comes up with intuitive ways to express those ideas in his R-rated efforts of the 1980s and 1990s. Typically his efforts, particularly his sci-fi offerings, are exceedingly violent, satirical and often contain and provoke strong sexual and taboo themes. He takes the fantasy concepts of the invisible man (Hollow Man), a man who becomes a robot (Robocop), soldiers shooting up robotic insects (Starship Troopers): tales of which evoke the 'fun', comic book element that in theory and general would pander towards children and families, and makes it more violent, sadistic and outrageous for adults. I get it. Though funnily (and unfortunately) enough, both Robocop and Total Recall got remade as watered- down, family friendly fare & as a result, both became box office bombs. 

It's no surprise to learn that Verhoeven can be a polarising director for audiences: the vast majority of his works are of an acquired taste. Movies included the famous Robocop, Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct, Total Recall and the critical disaster of the '90s & now cult classic, Showgirls. And in all those movies, there is violence, blood and gore, sex and nudity, as well as special effects and with this effort, Verhoeven doesn't hold back from the extremities that this film evokes. 

No other director could have come up with the crazed version of the Invisible Man, nor could have come up with a cop who gets murdered and is brought back to life as a robot in Robocop.

With Hollow Man, however, satire doesn't feature anywhere in this movie, as Verhoeven really goes hardcore and plays it straight as a full-on serial killer, one part- sci-fi fantasy, one part slasher -style flick, which is supported by an often misogynistic and what one may add objectification & treatment of the female characters; more specifically with the groping and the woman Sebastian spies on and rapes, as well as his ex-girlfriend, Linda. Some have noted the film doesn't explain why Sebastian's behaviour rapidly descends into madness, when you only have to watch the scene when he finds out that Linda and Matt have slept with each other, being one example.  

In another scene, which at first I found distressing, and grisly, was when Sebastian in invisible form grabs a dog and starts to bash it around; although thankfully, it wasn't a real dog. Personally, that scene should have been taken out of the movie, or at least remained in the uncut version.

This is a movie that has attracted a storm of negative comments. It was also accused of falling short as it degenerates into a typical horror film. The CGI effects still look good today for a film that is over 15 years old and it is one of the rarest instances where they are used to aid and further the story, rather than for it to be as something nice for us to look at. But that is not to say, Hollow Man doesn't have its issues.

The film does drag during the last 30 minutes and though Josh Brolin did okay, I felt he was weaker of the two protagonist actors compared to Elizabeth Shue and that someone else could have easily played that role but him. Also, I think it would have made the film less conventional and too predictable; had Sebastian been able to make himself appear and disappear and switch between the two and still go on a murderous rampage. The dialogue, however, is occasionally not very good also and the plot twists aren't surprising. And the remaining characters are extremely weak, forgettable and lacking in personality. Not to mention they are completely and utterly clueless and are so unlikeable. 

But that suspense and tension are maintained throughout the duration of this movie & further magnified 10 times over by Sebastian's efforts in picking out his co-workers & slaying them, one by one. 

Final Verdict:

This is not a film for everyone and unless you aren't too offended or upset by the strong violence, - though it may not be well regarded by a lot of people - Hollow Man does have some provocative elements that is backed up by some interesting special effects and action sequences and the love triangle plot serves as a plot device to almost everything else that happens in the movie. 

The film works effectively as a psychological slasher film; it's slick, fast-paced with some nice surprises and twists and though it has some interesting scenes and is entertaining in places, they should have got a different actor to play Matt, as for me personally, Josh Brolin didn't convince me enough as Linda's love interest/boyfriend. 

But alas, Hollow Man is a good varied attempt of a horror/slasher movie with an Invisible Man theme and distinguishes itself from its peers under Verhoeven's dark and cynical and over-the-top approach, but it is, unfortunately, let down by some of the dialogue, weak supporting characters, unsympathetic & horribly written protagonists in Matt and Linda and lack of character development. Still, plot-wise this is slightly more intriguing than Showgirls (yet has none of its blunt satire & unlike that movie, Hollow Man is not a misunderstood gem) and out of the main cast, Kevin Bacon steals the show. 

As a horror-slasher thriller movie with thrills and spills, whilst not fantastic, it is definitely underrated, somewhat - although I totally emphasise with those who found Hollow Man to be too mean-spirited and hateful to be fully enjoyed. Under Verhoeven's vision that is.

It's not great, but it ain't bad either.    


(*last updated: December 4, 2017)

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