Watching Kevin Bacon thrashing in agony as he dissolves layer by stomach-churning layer into a state of total invisibility has to be one of the more memorable moments in recent Hollywood cinema. Gruesome, yes, and the latest barrier-busting effects sequence for sure, but it's also an eye-popping lesson in biology. Why pick apart frogs in school when you can watch this mesmerising dissection instead?
Of course, it's what happens after Bacon can no longer be seen that interests Paul Verhoeven in his contemporary reworking of that HG Wells' warhorse The Invisible Man. Say goodbye to all-over body bandages and hello to kinky voyeurism and metal rods rammed through vital organs. Because what's preying on Verhoeven's mind here is how far would someone go if they thought they could get away with it?
In the case of Sebastian Caine (Bacon), a gifted but cocky scientist, it's a few mostly harmless pranks followed by a whole lotta evil. Verhoeven knows we're all waiting for Sebastian to gleefully abuse his powers of transparency, and that's where Hollow Man's unsettling eroticism and creep-out factor comes to the fore. It's also at this stage in proceedings that you'll either latch onto this depraved peepshow, or roll your eyes at how little control sick-puppy Verhoeven has over his baser instincts.
Sexual harassment of female co-workers and spying on ex-lover Shue is followed by slipping unseen into the apartment of a buxom neighbour (Brit model Rhona Mitra) for.... Well, some nasty unpleasantness. It's as if Verhoeven's nudging his male audience, asking them whether they wouldn't do something similar under the same circumstances. Can't speak for the rest of the male population Paul, but, er, no.
Subtle is a word that will never be applied to the Dutch helmer's work, but, even after Starship Troopers, the sadistic bluntness with which he goes about stalking and slaughtering his human and critter cast does leave you craving fewer geysers of gore and more inventive frights. Verhoeven steals wholesale from every haunted house movie ever made, as well as Alien and Predator, but what is clever are the ways that Sebastian's concealed form is briefly revealed by smoke, water, thermal imaging and blood.
It's Bacon's portrayal of this egotistical fiend, however, that proves to be the movie's trump card. You can't see him 70 per cent of the time, but Kev squeezes every last ounce of sinister (and camp) value out of his role. So does Hollow Man deliver? Well, it's got dazzling effects, some well-timed leap-out-of-your-seat shocks and Bacon in sizzling form. That alone makes it this year's best scary movie.
Paul Verhoeven's warped sensibilities run amok in this B-movie psycho-thriller, which emphasises kinky eroticism over cleverness, and Kevin Bacon is a menacing treat, torn between the impotence of transparency and the intoxication of playing God.