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Case Number 12205

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The Invisible

Hollywood Pictures // 2007 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // October 15th, 2007

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All Rise...

This movie reminds Judge Adam Arseneau of his prom night. You know, the being inv—hey, this sounds familiar.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Invisible (Blu-Ray), published October 25th, 2007, is also available.

The Charge

Life, death, and something in between.

Opening Statement

Most teenagers feel they're invisible anyway, so it was only a matter of time before a filmmaker took it literally. As a gripping suspense-filled mystery, The Invisible fizzles early, but careful construction, beautiful cinematography and direction, and a few interesting twists on teenage love save this English-language remake of Sweden's Den Osynlige from ruin.

Facts of the Case

Painfully bored teen Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin, War of the Worlds) lives an opulent lifestyle with his mother, Diane (Marcia Gay Harden, American Dreamz), in a fancy home. After the death of his father, Nick's mother has been meticulously planning out Nick's entire life in great detail, leaving little to chance. His grades are good and his teachers like him, but Nick has other plans. He wants to go to London to attend a writing program and hone his poetry skills, but his mother vetoes the idea firmly. Not in her plans, after all.

At school, Nick gets drawn into a confrontation between his friend and a gaggle of tough kids, fronted by the dour and grim-faced Annie Newton (Margarita Levieva, Vanished), a lost cause in the eyes of her school. A pretty girl invites Nick to a fashionable party, but Nick can barely stand to be around anyone at all, troubled by reoccurring nightmares of horrible, painful normality, of settling down into a life and never leaving, and dying early and unfulfilled like his father.

Then unexpectedly, Nick is accosted, beaten, and left for dead deep in the woods. He surprises himself by his complete lack of deadness, getting up and walking back to town only to find that nobody can hear or see him. Is he dead? A ghost? Furious, he follows his family and friends, hoping in vain that somebody will see him, but no one can…until a chance encounter with Annie results in a faint glimmer of hope, a tiny flash of reorganization.

Now, Nick must figure out how to solve his own murder in the hope of leading the authorities to his own body…but how can you make people listen when you are invisible?

The Evidence

Like The Sixth Sense for the WB network generation, The Invisible mixes teenage politics with ghost stories, infusing healthy amounts of jaded, teenage angst into the afterlife and proving that not even death doesn't stop teenagers from being all brooding and sullen. There's nothing like a pre-teen thriller to get the blood pumping through your veins. Except for one small detail, that is.

Here's the thing: The Invisible isn't thrilling, not even a little bit. A bit misleading, really; instead of having some massive mystery to solve, or some thrilling conclusion built up to, the film lets viewers in on the secrets early. Nick knows exactly who killed him, and we know exactly why he is killed, because it happens right in front of us in the first reel. I shall not discuss it here, in an attempt to preserve what little mystery the film has. Simply put, the vast majority of The Invisible involves Nick running around, invisible and helpless, trying to get people to figure out where his @#$% body is. He doesn't even get to solve his own death. What a rip!

With no real mystery to solve, The Invisible almost hits the ejector seat, but manages to keep solidly on track via a skillful combination of good character development and sharp direction. A teenage movie from start to finish, the film is very interested in exploring complex, pubescent ideas like "I hate my parents" and "my life sucks," with moderate success. The writers have tried hard to put themselves into the shoes of teenagers, trying to construct a film full of jaded, confused teens, and they get it mostly right. Gloomy and depressed, these are not happy-go-lucky party kids, but brooding, dysfunctional, repressed kids, unable to rectify their own anger and resentment towards their parents, acting out in different ways to alleviate the tension. Until, you know, one of them dies, and then turns into a ghost, but luckily, he gets to keep all that brooding teenage angst. It might come in handy in the afterlife.

As for Nick's journey into limbo land, it looks like fun. He has the ability to interact with his environment, but only to a limited extent, because anything he touches or moves reverts back almost immediately via some very convincing camera trickery. No one can hear him, with the exception of Annie, who only senses his presence in the most rudimentary of ways, like a strong gust of wind whispering to her. I like the scenes of Nick throwing his environment into disarray in fits of teenage aggression, only to have things shift back immediately as if nothing happened—very slickly done with some clever camera and editing tricks.

Interestingly, the most compelling moments in the film come in the form of Nick interacting with Annie, and the odd romantic tension that develops there. Furiously aggravated by Annie in life, Nick now finds himself privy to her most intimate private moments in death, which gives him an entirely different understanding of her circumstances and her motivations. Annie, unaware that Nick is haunting her, also begins to learn more about Nick by investigating the remnants of his life, and coming to a similar conclusion. The two, previously at opposite ends of the social stick, in fact have much more in common than they previously realized.

The Invisible isn't exactly a love story per se—no visions of a ghostly Patrick Swazye and erotic pottery classes here. It's more like a symbiotic love of two damaged teenagers bonding over their collective dissatisfaction with life. Without any thrilling going on, this is probably the strongest appeal of the film—an inverted love story of two people getting to know each other despite being worlds apart, literally. A bit goofy, sure, but in absence of anything dramatic, any tension will do. Considering what hellishness passes for teenage cinema and television programming these days, I'll take this sort of thing any day over the alternatives, like The O.C. or something. Now that's real terror.

Filmed outside beautiful Vancouver, The Invisible is full of lush foliage and steamy, misty streets, milking the gorgeous British Columbian landscape for all its worth. We get lots of pensive, brooding, slow-motion shots of Nick walking around as a ghost through crowds of people who cannot see him. The director utilizes shadow and depth to excellent effect, often throwing blankets of darkness over characters, having them step in and out of the light. The elegant cinematography, with graceful tracking shots and nice steadicam work, looks fantastic. Director David S. Goyer (Blade: Trinity; writer of Batman Begins and Ghost Rider) has a comic-book eye, and brings that stylishness to the screen in terms of laying out compositions and framing his subjects.

Acting performances are reasonable all around. As Nick, actor Justin Chatwin gets lots of nice angst-ridden outburst to play with, relishing the teenage drama. The film has plenty to say about teenagers and their relationships with their parents, of kids trying desperately to break away from the paths their parents foresee for them. As Annie Newton, Margarita Levieva has by far the most interesting performance to pull off, needing to be a raging tough girl and sympathetic protagonist all at the same time, and hits the mark quite well. Plus, she has really pretty hair. She's like this weird freaky cross between Julia Stiles and Angelina Jolie crammed into a seventeen-year-old Russian gymnast's body. Ironically, the only performance in the film that doesn't hold up to scrutiny is the only Oscar winner in the bunch. Marcia Gay Harden sleepwalks the role as the uptight mother, contributing little to the proceedings.

The Invisible is visually stylish, with a solid (but not perfect) transfer. Overall, the film looks great, but not nearly as well-defined as it should be, with patterns break down into messes of anti-aliasing and edge enhanced confusion. The slightly underwhelming performance is offset by obsidian black levels and nicely saturated colors. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround presentation is excellent, with dialogue clear in the center channel. The film makes fabulous use of all five channels to place its environmental noises. The score pulses and throbs effectively, and the soundtrack is crammed full of cutting-edge hipster music, like TV on the Radio, Sparta, Death Cab for Cutie, and other too-cool-for-school bands, but all are placed well within the film. Bass response is balanced, neither too aggressive nor passive.

As for extras, the majority of the supplements come in the form of two full-length audio commentary tracks; the first with director David S. Goyer and screenwriter Christine Roum, the second with screenwriter Mick Davis. Both tracks are worthwhile for fans, going deep into behind-the-scenes detail. The first track is the better choice, as Goyer and Roum are much chattier than Davis, who speaks in a deep Scottish brogue at a leisurely, slow pace. The only other extras included is thirteen minutes of deleted scenes, with a handy "play all" feature and optional commentary with David Goyer and Christine Roum, and two music videos ("The Kill" by 30 Seconds To Mars and "Taking Back Control" by Sparta). Not a lot of extras, but two full-length commentary tracks more than satisfy for a single-disc release.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Painfully lackadaisical in the tension and thrilling departments, The Invisible was aggressively marketed as a thriller, blazoned proudly with "from the producers of The Sixth Sense" over every possible surface. Bad move. Critics and fans alike were nonplussed by The Invisible during its theatrical run.

It isn't for lack of trying that The Invisible bores so. The problem is, as audiences, we are witness to Nick's "incident" that leads him to his ghostly form. Worse, he stays ever-present as a silent observer to nearly every on-screen event that takes place in the film. No tension! The Invisible fails thoroughly as a mystery and as a thriller, undone by its own mechanics. Had we been unaware, perhaps, of Nick's demise, the film might have had some bait to hang upon the dramatic hook, but alas.

Only in the last act do things start to get slightly more mysterious, but the ending goes soft and mushy in terms of believability, trading in some common sense for dramatic tension—always a risky venture. Here, the film stumbles horribly into hokey and goofiness, running completely at odds with the nice teenage brooding angst established prior. Unless you enjoy being buffered by bushels of corn, beware.

Closing Statement

Though nothing about The Invisible even remotely resembles a thriller in the conventional sense, for a teenage angst-ridden drama, you could do a lot worse. Beautiful direction, cinematography, and location shots, a unique twist on a teenage love story and a moderate plot all save the film from being a complete waste of time. Call it a unique twist on a teenage coming-of-age drama, and you'd probably score better crowd reactions than calling it a "thriller."

Viewers might not be on the edge of their seats, but the film has enough resonance and pull to persuade audiences to stick around until the final reel. Then, do yourself a favor and take off fifteen minutes before the film ends. You'll probably enjoy it more that way.

The Verdict

A solid rental, but not much more, unless you be a jaded angry teen at heart.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 88
Audio: 91
Extras: 65
Acting: 80
Story: 80
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Hollywood Pictures
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Drama
• Mystery
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Audio Commentary with Director David S. Goyer and Writer Christine Roum
• Audio Commentary with Writer Mick Davis
• Deleted Scenes
• Music Videos


• IMDb
• MySpace page for The Invisible

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