To countdown to this year's Halloween, Luke Owen reviews a different horror film every day of October. Next up, a modern take on a classic movie, Hollow Man...
As mentioned in yesterday's Countdown to Halloween, there are several reasons why 1933's The Invisible Man has stood the test of time among the annals of film history: stunning practical effects that never age, fantastic visuals and a chilling central performance from it's leading man who relies on nothing but his voice, to name but a few. These are just some of the elements that are missing from Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man which doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad movie, but it's not exactly a great one either.
Hollow Man tells the story of a group of scientists lead by Sebastian Caine (EE's Kevin Bacon) who are working on a an experiment to turn people invisible. They've managed to get the serum to work on animals, but can't quite figure out how to make them visible again. To avoid getting their funding cut and their operation shut down, Caine has his team perform the experiment on him. But, just as everyone else who gets turned into The Invisible Man, he goes crazy with power and begins to stalk and kill the other scientists.
It really is unfair to compare this movie to the Universal classic as the two aren't even in the same league. This isn't like comparing Universal's Frankenstein with the Hammer interpretation, this is more like comparing Dracula with Twilight - they both contain similar elements, but each go in different directions, often with varying degrees of success.
For starters, Hollow Man isn't a terrible movie - it's just incredibly average. The story is very interesting and the development of the Caine character is mostly good, but there are certain elements of the movie which simply let it down. The supporting cast are nothing more than serviceable (they're mostly just cannon fodder) and the movie loses its way around the 60 minute mark before descending into naff CGI-fest.
Kevin Bacon is perfectly fine as Caine but he fails in never changing his performance or allowing his voice to further his character's presence. What makes Claude Rains' performance as Jack Griffin so memorable is his voice and dialogue delivery and this is where Bacon falls flat (although this is also down to Verhoeven's direction). He doesn't need to use his voice to convey his emotions as we see him visible for a lot of the movie. Moreover, he is given a mask that allows him to use facial expressions which not only lets Bacon become complacent in his role, but it also removes a lot of the horror about the character - because he can see what he is doing and thinking.
The movie also suffers because it came out at a time when studios wanted their horror movies to be nothing more than Scream clones. Even thought it was released 5 years after the fact, the Scream-esque vibe and ending creates a tonal shift that the movie didn't need. One minute it's a psychological horror and then it turns into a standard stalk and slash movie with no real drama or scares. Not only is the last third the weakest part of the movie, it's also the dullest.
But the nail in the average coffin for Hollow Man is the sub-par CGI that has dated the movie beyond all belief. Even for 2000 a lot of these effects looked poor (remember The Matrix had come out one year previous) and forgetting the fact that this movie is from the director of RoboCop, a movie that utilised practical effects to create sci-fi gold, Hollow Man just feels lazy in its CGI execution. There are several times when the effects could have been done practically, only for them to fall back on the easier post-production fix. When giving the argument for practical over computer effects, just throw up The Invisible Man and Hollow Man as clear cut examples.
As aforementioned, Hollow Man is not a dreadful movie and there is actually a lot to take away from it. Even though it has that post-Scream reek, there are some good scares and Verhoeven does create a chilling atmosphere when it's contained to the underground laboratory. Given his body of work, it's unsurprising to see him take the movie down the sex predator route, but this does give the character the kind of edge that a lot of Invisible Man interpretations have missed. But the movie suffers from a lacklustre leading performance and low-rent CGI that looked bad even for the time period. An interesting idea, but a very lazy effort on most accounts.
Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth's co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.