Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Don’t overlook Hollow Man, Paul Verhoeven’s prescient slasher about male entitlement

Illustration for article titled Don’t overlook iHollow Man/i, Paul Verhoeven’s prescient slasher about male entitlement
Screenshot: Hollow Man

Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. As part of Y2k week here at The A.V. Club, we’ve listed the 25 best films of the year 2000. These are some of our favorites that didn’t make the countdown. 

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Hollow Man (2000)

The big winners at the 73rd Academy Awards were Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, two genre spectacles that (briefly) revitalized the sword-and-sandal picture and introduced wuxia films to mainstream American audiences, respectively. Quibbling about Oscar picks is futile and silly, if only because the awards show is, generally speaking, a sham event that consistently rewards middlebrow taste. Still, it’s egregious that Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man lost the Visual Effects award to Ridley Scott’s Roman epic when the latter’s most glaring flaw remains its ostensibly “cutting edge” VFX. (The heavily blue-screened tigers particularly stick out.) Meanwhile, as both an effects film and an indictment of toxic masculinity, Hollow Man has only improved.

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It wasn’t too well received upon release, and even Verhoeven himself has been critical of the film, calling it the first of his movies that “should not have been made.” Despite his misgivings, Hollow Man deserves a second look—if not a full critical reappraisal, à la his earlier Showgirlsat the very least for its relatively seamless effects. Verhoeven and visual effects supervisor Craig Hayes employed a motion-control camera, latex body suits and masks, and 3D digital modeling to create the convincing illusion of invisibility. More than half of the film’s budget was put towards the effects shots (at least 500 of them total), insuring that they were smoothly integrated into the action.

All of that effects work would be for naught, however, if it weren’t for Bacon’s tour-de-force performance. As Sebastian, the arrogant scientist leading a military-funded lab team to develop an invisibility serum, he offers an alienating portrait of male entitlement, seething about the lack of validation he’s received from his peers and superiors, despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s oddly prophetic of the Silicon Valley tech wizard mentality, i.e. “innovation” as the ultimate goal, no matter the sacrifice nor the ends to which the tech will be used. Moreover, Sebastian’s anger toward ex-girlfriend and fellow team member Linda (Elizabeth Shue) because she commits the dual cardinal sins of no longer sleeping with him and shacking up with their handsome co-worker Matt (Josh Brolin) reeks of misogyny. Bacon persuasively weaponizes his charm, previously established in films like Footloose and Apollo 13, organically shifting from “run-of-the-mill workplace asshole” to “deranged mass murderer.”

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“It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror anymore,” Sebastian eventually sneers, and that’s basically Hollow Man’s whole point: that accountability, or the threat of consequences, is all that stops us from becoming violent, hateful monsters. It’s an idea that’s played out in culture, politics, and entertainment over the years since—and none of the real-life perpetrators, many of them men in positions of power, have needed invisibility to get away with their crimes. Verhoeven takes seriously Sebastian’s transgressions, many of them sexual in nature. One of the first things the character does when he’s hidden in plain sight is coyly unbutton his female co-worker’s shirt while she’s sleeping. He does much worse later. An unsettling air of sexual panic pervades Hollow Man, creeping into the frame whenever women are alone. It’s the threat that “no one will believe you anyway” taken to its lurid extreme (and a precursor, in that respect, to this year’s likeminded spin on the same classic monster story).

Hollow Man doesn’t live or die by its ideas. It peppers in enough genre pleasures to satisfy auteurists and B-movie freaks alike. Verhoeven commits to the invisibility conceit, bathing Sebastian in every possible liquid or vapor to render him visible and generating tension from negative space. The ensemble is filled out with game character actors, like Kim Dickens and Greg Grunberg. And Verhoeven’s dark sense of humor, as when Sebastian scares some kids with his hollow latex mask, helps the nastier moments go down a little easier.

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Hollow Man topped the box office its first week of release and grossed almost $200 million worldwide, making it Verhoeven’s biggest hit since Basic Instinct. For the first time in his career, audiences were ahead of the curve.

Availability: Hollow Man is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and IMDB TV (with ads). It can also be rented or purchased digitally from Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, Microsoft, Fandango, Redbox, DirectTV, and VUDU.

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Vikram Murthi is a freelance writer and critic currently based out of Brooklyn.

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