Hollow Man (2000) Review – Why It’s Actually Good

OK, this is the last ‘non-Christmas’ film I’m going to review but this film is a pretty good science fiction/thriller film, and no one likes it. I’m baffled. It has received such animosity but to me, it’s not that bad. It’s actually pretty good. I understand that it’s a little bit cheesy but it’s not bad, and here’s why.

First, some context which means, plot.

Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is a Molecular Biologist with an ego the size of Planet Earth but he’s got the brain to back it up. He leads his own team; fellow Molecular Biologists, Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue) and Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin), Veterinarian, Sarah Kennedy (Kim Dickens), EMT, Carter Abbey (Greg Grunberg) and Lab Technicians, Frank Chase (Joey Slotnick) and Janice Walton (Mary Randle).

With his team, he runs an underground lab which experiments presumably biological weapons for the pentagon. It’s certainly not experiments to benefit society since their main experiments revolve around a serum that turns the subject invisible.

After a successful experiment means that a gorilla named Isabelle is brought back from invisibility, Sebastian lies to the Pentagon and tells them that they are still finding a solution. However, his true intention is to move into ‘Phase 3’ or ‘Human Testing’ with himself as the subject.

The team successfully turn Sebastian invisible but over the course of the days and then weeks that he remains invisible, his state begins to affect his mind and just the other subjects before him, his behavior turns violent and eventually, homicidal.

The first good aspect of ‘Hollow Man’ is Kevin Bacon, both his character, Sebastian and the actor himself. Although other actors were considered for the role such as Guy Pearce and Edward Norton, Bacon was chosen because he had the ability to be both charming and diabolical which is totally true. I’m familiar with the works of Mr Pearce and Mr Norton and whilst they are both great actors, I don’t think they were right to play Sebastian Caine.

Sebastian Caine is hugely intelligent, and his work has given him a ‘God Complex’ but his massive ego has sabotaged his relationships. He used to be in a relationship with Linda and whilst it’s unknown exactly why their relationship deteriorated, it’s generally assumed Linda left him. Now, she’s in a secret relationship with Matt and is presumably keeping it to herself out of fear of what Sebastian may think or how he may react.

Although they work for the Pentagon, Sebastian is adamant that the ‘invisibility’ project is his own and it’s possible that may be the case. The Pentagon may have been approached with the prospect of making people invisible and offered their almost limitless resources to make it happen. Even though the Pentagon has authority over the team, Sebastian still feels like it’s his project and it’s his decision to move into human testing.

Agreed, the voices of reason should have been Linda and Matt as they are both aware that if anything went wrong with this dangerous and risky experiment, they’d all lose their jobs and yet, they went along with it possibly for the sake that if they pulled it off, they’d make history.

The problems really start once Sebastian has been turned invisible.

After the painful process, he’s meant to stay invisible for three days so he can be monitored and then they change him back. During those three days, it’s obvious that Sebastian is enjoying himself as he plays pranks and messes around with his colleagues, but the team don’t seem to be enjoying the fact that they can’t see their boss because they already think he’s creepy and they are right to think so. Janine is so uncomfortable with the new working arrangements that she wears her thermal goggles whilst she’s using the bathroom.

Everyone seems to think that he’s into some creepy shit and they’re right to a certain degree. Sebastian does seem to be very sexual what with him peeping on his neighbor as she’s undressing and trying to put his hand up Linda’s skirt and even moving into more sinister methods by fondling Sarah’s chest whilst she’s asleep. Linda even dreams about an invisible Sebastian unbuttoning her shirt and removing her underwear whilst she sleeps, waking up at the point where he opens her legs. All these things are precursors to the horrible acts that Sebastian commits later.

The team attempt to bring Sebastian back, but it goes dramatically wrong and he nearly dies. Afterwards, Sebastian finds his liberties being restricted even more. Naturally, he’s not allowed to leave the underground base but being cooped up in the lab begins to wear down his resolve. Eventually, he leaves and returns to his apartment to collect some of his belongings. However, when he returns to his apartment, someone catches his eye.

It’s established early on that once a subject has been invisible for a certain amount of time, they begin to exhibit violent tendencies such as Isabelle the Gorilla attacking Matt towards the start. Also, at the beginning, when Sebastian is working at home, he sees that his female neighbor (Rhona Mitra) has returned home and begins to undress to have a shower but she pulls the curtains before he can see anything really biological.

However, when Sebastian returns to his apartment and he realises that he can walk around without being seen therefore could theoretically do anything. Sebastian removes his clothes, makes his way to her apartment, sneaks in and then sexually assaults her. In the theatrical version, the neighbor is shown being grabbed by an invisible Sebastian and she is never seen again. When I watched this film for the first time, I thought he’d killed her, and it wasn’t until I saw the deleted scenes when I realized that it was far more sinister. The deleted scenes show the attack and an invisible Sebastian climbing off the bed as the neighbor lies curled up and crying on the bed.

Now, Sebastian has committed an awful crime and he’s gotten away with it. For someone with a huge ego and the invisibility only exacerbating that, he’s gotten it into his head that he can get away with anything but the longer he’s invisible, the more his psychotic and sadistic tendencies rise to the surface. From this moment, it’s a downward spiral until the final act.

Sebastian discovers Matt and Linda’s relationship and when he leaves the base one too many times, both Matt and Linda go to their boss, Howard Kramer (William Devane) and tell him what they’ve done but before Kramer can tell anyone else, Sebastian kills him. Now, Sebastian has long since passed the point of no return. He’s realised that in the base, he’s an experiment to be poked and prodded and pinched and injected and irradiated but outside the base, he can go anywhere and do anything and his ‘God Complex’ will be fulfilled. But if he wants to follow down that path, he has to ‘get rid of’ all the people who know of his existence, i.e., the rest of the team.

The group soon realise that the phone line has been cut and the elevator that is the only point of access to the surface isn’t accepting their codes anymore because Sebastian has removed them. When they go to confront him, Sebastian kills Janice without the rest of the group noticing and then talks to Matt and Linda where it is revealed the depths that he has sunk and he speaks the one line that I actually find really poignant in this very situation ‘It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror anymore’. It’s a very powerful line and it shows that due to his invisibility, Sebastian has lost his conscience.

After Janice; Carter, Sarah and Frank fall victim to Sebastian and after Linda is locked in a freezer with a badly injured Matt, Sebastian plans to blow up the lab and all the evidence that he was ever there. But Sebastian can’t get away with his crimes, so Linda escapes the freezer and leaves an unconscious Matt to confront Sebastian. She does that by setting him on fire and burning his disguise but that means that she can’t see him. Matt arrives just in time to save Linda and electrocutes Sebastian which renders him partially visible.

By now, Sebastian is no longer totally invisible and somehow, he survives the explosion of the lab. He catches up with the surviving pair and manages to separate Linda from Matt but she manages to kill Sebastian by dropping him into the fires below. Matt and Linda climb to the top of the elevator shaft where the emergency services are waiting for them.

It’s obvious that the most effort has gone into Sebastian’s character since he’s the one driving the plot. The other characters are more ‘stock’ characters to fill out the kill list in the final act. It is a large facility to house just seven staff and one security guard. Even Linda and Matt who are the two survivors aren’t particularly well characterized but Elisabeth Shue and Josh Brolin are good actors so it’s not so bad.

How the movie was filmed is also very interesting. It’s not that difficult to film a scene where your lead actor is supposed to be invisible, you can just not have him in the scene and speak his lines off camera but what is not natural is the reactions of the other actors in the scene. Since invisible Sebastian has to interact with the other characters, their reactions are more natural if he’s there and taking part. Therefore, Kevin Bacon was painted a variety of colours whilst he was supposed to be invisible. Also, the camera was placed on a mechanized rig and the camera movements were very carefully monitored and recorded so the same movements could be recreated. Essentially, the film was shot twice; once without the actors (including Bacon painted whatever colour he was painted that day) and again without the actors so they could get the background behind an invisible Sebastian so they could digitally remove him and make him invisible… see what I mean?

Anyway, with an uncomfortable budget of $95 Million, ‘Hollow Man’ took in $190.2 Million at the box office, doubling its weighty budget. With all those special effects, it’s not surprising that the budget was so big, but the return was good. However, I feel that the impressive box office takings was a result of the names attached because the reception was not that great.

Critics slammed the piece for thinking it nothing more than a generic slasher film, but the effects were praised none the less.

I disagree. I feel that ‘Hollow Man’ tried more than most to create a true psychological thriller that showed the degradation of rational thought combined with man’s abuse of science and the fear of fighting a foe that cannot be seen. If there was ever a metaphor.

A sequel to ‘Hollow Man’, would you believe it was called ‘Hollow Man 2’, was released in 2006 and starred Christian Slater. Apparently, it’s shit. I wouldn’t know, I haven’t seen it… which is ironic, if you think about it.

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