"The Invisible" is an instant contender as the best film not screened in advance for critics. That warrants being said up front because, by the very fact that distributor Hollywood Pictures disparagingly opened the movie cold and went out of their way to hide it from critics, there will be a negative stigma surrounding its release. What was the studio thinking? Do they have a vendetta against director David S. Goyer (2004's "Blade: Trinity
")? Do they delight in watching their projects fail at the box-office? Or could the real reason maybe, just maybe, be that they were at a loss about how to promote a finished product that rose above and beyond the cookie-cutter teenybopper affair they expected?
Despite being advertised as from the producer of "The Sixth Sense
," "The Invisible" is not a conventional horror film with spooky ghosts or hacksaw killers, nor is it a generic suspenser with cheap jump scares around every corner. The only horror on display is the frightening notion of a person who knows his life is slipping away from him but is helpless to stop it. There is a great deal of tension at certain points, but it comes naturally out of situations where time is of the critical essence. Instead, "The Invisible" is a somber, thought-provoking supernatural drama with a brain and a heart. In adapting for American audiences the Swedish novel (and subsequent film) "Den Osynlige" by Mats Wahl, director David S. Goyer and screenwriters Mick Davis and Christine Roum blindside the viewer with the levels of intelligence, filmmaking artistry, and utimate profundity they bring to the material.
18-year-old Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin) is the ideal son. His relationship with his widowed mother Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) is cold and detached, but that hardly matters to her since he is an excellent student and seemingly does everything right. A desire to study abroad in London against his mom's wishes is out of the ordinary for him, but he's already got enough high school credits to graduate early and sees it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When a series of erratic events falsely pinpoint Nick as the one who snitched to police about a robbery that wayward classmate Annie Newton (Margarita Levieva) was involved in, Annie seeks her revenge by beating him to a pulp. She goes too far, however, and suddenly finds herself looking at possible murder charges. Nick rises the next day and returns to school, but something isn't right. No one can see or hear him. When he touches people or objects, it does not affect them. It isn't long before Nick discovers that his spirit is free to walk the earth as long as his body, hidden away in a sewer, wavers between survival and death.
One of the many pleasures of "The Invisible" is the power it has in absorbing one's full attention. The storytelling is crisp and clean without becoming too overwrought or forceful. The opening scene is stunning. An early graduation party for Nick takes a dark turn when he calmly rises from the table, cuts himself a piece of cake, walks into the basement, and points a rifle at his head. It is only a dream, but a riveting and memorable way to begin the film while already painting a window into Nick's subconscious wonderings if anyone would notice if he was gone. Director David S. Goyer takes his time to develop Nick into a three-dimensional human being and set up the world he lives in so that when all is taken from him, the viewer feels it in their gut.
From here, Goyer uses the opportunity to explore two paths that converge, both of them effective. As Nick walks around unseen, he is able to act as witness to the personal and private moments in other people's lives, thereby exposing the true thoughts and feelings they shield from the rest of the world. In doing this, Nick is drawn closer to his potential killer, the severely troubled Annie. Annie has no one to blame but herself for the choices she makes, but that still doesn't take away her neglectful home life and tendency to gravitate towards trouble. She knows she has made a grave mistake after believing she has killed Nick, and it is her preoccupation and guilt over him that allows Nick to make a first connection with the conscious plane of existence. Unfortunately, time is rapidly running out. As police searches turn up dead ends, Diane crumbles in grief, and Annie contemplates doing what she knows is right for a change, Nick knows he only has a limited time frame for someone to uncover his body before it is too late.
Justin Chatwin (2005's "War of the Worlds
") is spellbinding as Nick Powell. Chatwin's role is extremely difficulthe has no choice but to act as spectator over a place he no longer can controlbut the young actor is exceptional at conveying his character's alternate determination and vulnerability. Sharing an unmistakable resemblance to Erika Christensen, newcomer Margarita Levieva is very good as Annie Newton. Levieva doesn't approach the role as if Annie is a one-note hothead, but more as a tough-talking rebel in over her head and weakly masking the pains from her past. These two largely do not correspond (at least not directly), but Chatwin and Levieva nonetheless share a soulful interlinking connection that packs a wallop. In on-target supporting parts, Marcia Gay Harden (2006's "American Dreamz
") is heartbreaking as a mother whose true love for her son only bubbles to the surface after he disappears, and Chris Marquette (2004's "The Girl Next Door
") is equally solid as Nick's meek, conflicted best friend, Pete, whose own life self-destructs after unintentionally becoming an accessory to the violent crime against Nick.
Tech credits are above-average for this kind of modestly-budgeted effort. Moodily lensed in Vancouver, British Columbia (standing in for Seattle) by Gabriel Beristain (2006's "The Sentinel
"), the cinematography is sleek, stylish and resourceful, its overcast skies weighing down on the characters' predicaments. The editing by Conrad Smart is seamless. The soundtrack, punctuated with a roster of memorable pop-rock tunes carefully placed throughout, compliments the emotional content and stands out in a good way because of this.
Rattling and intoxicating, "The Invisible" is an emotionally-charged rumination on mortality and redemption that only in the very last five minutes comes close to overstepping the boundaries of its carefully conceived plot. Also, one or two additional scenes would have been appreciated to more concretely complete the character arcs of Diane and Pete, respectively. These are minor quibbles, however, and the last scene is lovely in the way director David S. Goyer says so much about the film's themes without having his characters say barely anything. Kudos, too, for the imaginative way in which Nick's stuck-in-limbo self is portrayed. In lieu of going the cheesy route and being able to stick his hands through people and walls, Nick can touch and be touched just as he always has; the difference is that, because he is operating on a separate metaphysical wavelength, his actions have no bearing on everyone else's existence. Exploring in a serious and gritty manner what it might mean for a person to know that he or she is staring almost certain death in the face, "The Invisible" is no cut-and-paste teen flick; it's weightier than the usual studio fare, and smarter too. The film, thus far one of the best of the year, lingers and stirs in the viewer's mind long after it is over. The lack of support Hollywood Pictures afforded this thoughtful sleeper gem is frankly inexcusable.