HOLLOW MAN (2000) Reviews and overview

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‘Think you’re alone? Think again.’

Hollow Man is a 2000 American-German science fiction horror feature film about a scientist who volunteers to be the test subject for an experiment in human invisibility…

Directed by Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers; Total Recall; Basic Instinct; RoboCop) from a screenplay written by Andrew W. Marlowe, based on a storyline co-written with Gary Scott Thompson, loosely based on the novel The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells. The movie stars Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin and Kim Dickens.


After years of experimentation, Doctor Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), a brilliant yet arrogant and egotistical scientist working for the US Defence Department has successfully transformed mammals to invisible states and brought them back to their original physical form.

Determined to achieve the ultimate breakthrough, Caine instructs his scientific team to move on to Phase III: human experimentation. Boldly, using himself as the first subject, the newly-invisible Caine finds himself unable to revert back and yet free to do the unthinkable. However, Caine’s experiment takes an unexpected turn when his team can’t bring him back. As the days pass, he grows more and more out of control, doomed to a future without flesh.


Paul Verhoeven is rarely a director to do anything by half-measures. In tackling the invisible-man theme – here mostly unchanged from the basic concept of the H.G. Wells’ novel, that being invisible will make even a smart science chap go loony and homicidal with power – he brought to bear state-of-the-art CGI that was Hollywood’s shiny new toy circa the turn of the 20th century.

This invisible guy doesn’t just do a fade-dissolve like in the old analogue f/x days; he pixelates in and out of oblivion with veins, musculature, nerves, bones etc. all revealed in stunning, living colour – special f/x supervisor Greg Anderson claimed he even participated in cadaver dissections to get the look just right, and there was talk of using the very same visualizing technology in anatomy labs.

Well…okay, nice that some good came out of Hollow Man.

Besides being a nice search-engine trigger that just might – mind you I said might – lead bloodthirsty kiddies to T.S. Eliot poetry, Hollow Man breaks down as a potentially intelligent sci-fi shocker that goes disappointingly down the maniac-slasher route in the end. Except for a key character coming up with a nice DIY electromagnet, much of the mayhem could have been transplanted easily from a horror cheapie of a knifeman stalking dumb high-schoolers through dark corridors (which, at one point here are literally awash in red blood).

Kevin Bacon, dialling up the arrogance and dislikable qualities that, ever since National Lampoon’s Animal House has made him a strong a villain as ingratiating he can be as a good guy, is the government-funded scientist working with a crew of assistants in a deep underground Washington D.C. lair (it’s never stated outright, but Andrew Marlowe’s script concept put them in a repurposed Cold-War nuclear missile silo-bunker).

Despite Bacon’s forceful present as the maniac Caine, making Claude Rains seem positively docile, you know it’s probably going to be a little less impactful material when the characters on the invisibility project – all young folks – look and dress like models in a lad-mag fashion layout circa 2000 (inform your science-minded daughter that the belly-revealing tops worn by the girls might be explained by the offscreen hysteria surrounding pop-siren Britney Spears at the time).

Early on we’re tipped off that the lead lovely on the science team (Elisabeth Shue) is Caine’s ex-girlfriend, and that she’s now sleeping with Caine’s lab assistant (Josh Brolin), who thus rivals the controlling Caine in bed as well as brains. When Caine becomes invisible, and his own techniques can’t reverse the process, Caine’s all-killing rampage through the sealed lab-complex is unsubtle and pre-ordained, the movie falling into that inverse-square-law syndrome that the more expensive and lavish a psycho-killer picture is, the less entertaining it actually gets. Really, Columbia Pictures, the budget and talent of a small city was spent here, and this is the best you can do?

Opening moments that focus on the menagerie of lab-test animals, some visible, some not, might suggest an anti-vivisection/animal rights theme appended onto the general notion of high-IQ cruelty and Science Behaving Badly. Or maybe it’s just a measure of the unappealing humans shown in this picture that viewers might be more gripped by the plight of the simians, dogs and cats than by the imperilled people.

Of course, the classic invisible-man fantasy in popular (male) consciousness, one that H.G. Wells didn’t dare pursue, is exploited by Verhoeven almost right away: the invisible molester and insatiable voyeur. Sebastian Caine fondles a sleeping cohort’s breast unseen, and, invisible, carnally assaults a female nameless neighbour with a habit of stripping in view of his apartment window. This attack scene, according to Verhoeven, was trimmed because of the dismay it caused test audiences (quite a comment from the fellow who made Showgirls); one is really left with no payoff if the girl was left living or dead by the invisible flesh fiend. It is worth noting for film and gaming nerds that the non-speaking female victim is essayed by Rhona Mitra, who is illustrious in cyber-history as an alleged visual inspiration for bosomy Lara Croft, though some sort of creative fallout prevented her from actually playing vixenish role taken by Angelina Jolie in the incipient Tomb Raider movies being done at the time.

Everything ends with fireballs and a careening elevator that seems like a bombastic and ostentatious stunt sequence dropped in from a Tsui Hark actioner. You may be impressed by Hollow Man and its clever visuals, but as slick, soulless formula horror/sci-fi product, it’s rather a see-thru affair.

Charles Cassady Jr. – MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

” …instead of exploring the underside of Sebastian’s personality, or the tantalizing liberty that invisibility might offer, Hollow Man quickly becomes a pallid retread of The Terminator crossed with a half-dozen second-rate horror movies, as his fellow scientists pursue Sebastian through their mazelike underground compound and he dispatches them in the most predictable order possible.” The New York Times, August 4, 2000

“Apparently the invisibility process makes Bacon more animalistic so that when he spies them together, he goes berserk. Anything will do as the excuse for a 25-minute action sequence in which the monster chases the scientist around the lab like someone who has spent a lot of time studying The Thing. At some kind of mechanical level I suppose the movie works. But it brings nothing to the party except the most simplistic elements.” Roger Ebert, August 4, 2000

“Verhoeven’s way of regarding women is fetishistic and exploitive, and this film leaves a foul aftertaste. But like most of his movies, including the giant-bug thriller Starship Troopers, Hollow Man also has camp value — the ability to astound us with its trashy dialogue, lurid plot twists and total obliviousness to its own wretchedness.” San Francisco Chronicle, January 5, 2001

“Bacon fully commits to his vile character, and despite Verhoeven’s vocal disappointment of his film, it does present a uniquely modern take on a classic literary monster. One with a rare blockbuster budget, no less. Slick production values and a fantastically bloody finale…” Bloody Disgusting

Cast and characters:

  • Elisabeth Shue … Linda McKay
  • Kevin Bacon … Sebastian Caine
  • Josh Brolin … Matthew Kensington
  • Kim Dickens … Sarah Kennedy
  • Greg Grunberg … Carter Abbey
  • Joey Slotnick … Frank Chase
  • Mary Randle … Janice Walton
  • William Devane … Doctor Kramer
  • Rhona Mitra … Sebastian’s Neighbor
  • Pablo Espinosa … Warehouse Guard
  • Margot Rose … Mrs Kramer
  • Jimmie F. Skaggs … Wino
  • Jeffrey Scaperrotta … Boy in Car (as Jeffrey George Scaperotta)
  • Sarah Bowles … Girl in Car
  • Kelli Scott … Mom
  • Steve Altes … Dad
  • J. Patrick McCormack … General Caster
  • Darius A. Sultan … Gate Guard
  • Tom Woodruff Jr. … Isabelle the Gorilla
  • David Vogt … Helicopter Pilot
  • Gary A. Hecker … Gorilla Vocals (voice) (as Gary Hecker)
  • Stephen Szibler … Old Ebbit Grill Patron (uncredited)

Technical details:

  • 112 minutes | 119 minutes (director’s cut – details are here)
  • Audio: SDDS | Dolby | DTS
  • Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1

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