Hollow Man: A Hollow Update of HG Wells Classic

Author HG Wells’ 1897 novel, The Invisible Man, is a classic work of science fiction. Director James Whale’s 1933 movie adaption later introduced The Invisible Man to the gallery of Universal Monsters. Since Whale’s groundbreaking version, Hollywood has re-visited Wells’ character numerous times, with mixed results. In 2000, RoboCop and Basic Instinct director Paul Verhoeven tried his hand at the tale with a very loose adaptation, Hollow Man. Though it was a box office money-maker, Verhoeven’s bombastic style failed to impress critics. So after 20 years, has Hollow Man earned a critical re-apprsaisal? Or is it still a transparently bad movie?

Hollow Man a Creepy Movie … In All The Wrong Ways

What would you do if you were invisible? Apparently, according to Hollow Man, you’d be a skeevy pervert. And maybe later, you’d turn to homicidal rage. Verhoeven directed Basic Instinct and Showgirls, so it’s not surprising he’d lean towards a more sexually charged interpretation of Wells’ story. Still Hollow Man wallows for much of its second act in juvenile hijinks that wouldn’t feel out of place in an ‘80s teen sex romp. These ‘hijinks’ quickly give way to misogynistic scenes that have not aged well. Bacon’s Sebastian Caine almost immediately takes advantage of his new state to stalk female colleagues, a neighbour, and his ex. But rather than emphasize suspense and tension, Verhoeven opts for lingering, voyeuristic scenes that are creepy in all the wrong ways.

Still Hollow Man wallows for much of its second act in juvenile hijinks that wouldn’t feel out of place in an ‘80s teen sex romp.

Certainly, there’s some tension to be had when the audience knows Crane is likely hovering over a sleeping co-worker. However, Verhoeven uncomfortably drags the scene on with it culminating in Crane fondling Kim Dickens’ exposed breast. Verhoeven repeats this type of predatory scene several times. In what’s arguably Hollow Man’s most disturbing moment, Crane sneaks into neighbour Rhona Mitra’s apartment after she showers – the scene ends with Crane forcing her onto a bed. Yes, Verhoeven very much wants to show how Crane’s ‘God complex’ pushes him from ‘Peeping Tom’ to psychopathic predator. Nevertheless, Hollow Man almost exclusively focuses on these moments rather than attempting to generate any genuine scares. Moreover, Verhoeven handles the content clumsily – he discards these actions to focus on a ‘satisfying’ action-horror climax.

Hollow Man Boasts Impressive Visual Effects

Perhaps Hollow Man’s only saving grace is its impressive visual effects. James Whale’s original The Invisible Man found several innovative ways to convince audiences that a man could truly be invisible. Over seventy years later, Hollow Man benefits from computer technology that still holds up rather well today. The level of detail put into Cain’s transformation is absolutely amazing. Even 20 years since Hollow Man’s release, these scenes are still the most engrossing thing about the movie. Given the effort put into the visual effects, it’s too bad Verhoeven didn’t devote as much attention to making his movie, you know, scary.

When a scene that looks like it was intended to be a cathartic climax prompts laughs, you know you’ve done something wrong.

What’s truly unfortunate is the potential that’s clearly present. Whether it’s the set-up of the thermo-goggles or the final act’s confining location, Hollow Man should have been an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Yet in spite of all its potential, Verhoeven can’t conjure up so much as a lazy jump scare. Even worse, Hollow Man settles into a lazy slasher movie mentality that drags on far too long. The movie even uses the ‘killer isn’t dead yet’ trope without so much of a shred of irony. When a scene that looks like it was intended to be a cathartic climax prompts laughs, you know you’ve done something wrong.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Isn’t Enough

Poor Kevin Bacon. One could easily make the argument that Bacon is one of the more under-appreciated actors working today. In short, his filmography is impressive. And Bacon’s never shied away from the horror genre after his early work in Friday the 13th. In Hollow Man, Bacon convinces as a smug, arrogant genius. Andrew W Marlowe’s screenplay doesn’t give Bacon much with which to work. Hollow Man ‘tells us’ Bacon’s ‘Sebastian Caine’ is a genius. And he types something really fast on a computer a couple of times so, yeah, he’s a genius. But Bacon makes his transition from an arrogant scientist to madman at least feel somewhat believable.

An impressive supporting cast, which includes Elizabeth Shue and Josh Brolin, back Bacon up. Both Shue and Brolin are excellent in their roles, elevating what’s essentially B-movie material. In particular, Shue manages to find some dignity for her character even as Hollow Man insists on objectifying all of its female cast. If Hollow Man had anything else going for it outside of its effect, the cast was a definite plus.

Hollow Man May Make You Wish It Had Disappeared Off Your Screen

When Hollow Man was released, it wasn’t a particularly good movie. Now after nearly 20 years, it’s still not a very good movie. The visual effects have held up well, but nothing else in Verhoeven’s misguided interpretation of Wells’ class will translate for new audiences. After Stephen Sommers’ ‘Indiana Jones-esque’ update of The Mummy, you can’t blame Verhoeven from of his creative choices. But the lack of scares, lazy slasher final act, and exploitative approach to its suspense all serve to sink this one. Audiences will likely just with Hollow Man would fade off their screens.


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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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