Caught in a state of bodily limbo, a teenager must try to unravel his own death in The Invisible, an evocatively gloomy, elliptical drama of redemption that captures the palpable disconnection of youth. Much more a character-rooted, sustained mood piece than a commercially geared supernatural thriller, the movie represents an impressive attempt at a genre curveball from Batman Begins writer and occasional director David Goyer, warming up for the upcoming Magneto movie.
The Invisible debuted to an estimated $7.6m opening weekend Stateside, good for second place, topping both Nicolas Cage's Next and two other new openers. Its low-spirited tone will likely somewhat dampen word-of-mouth amongst mainstream teen audiences, and the film's ability to expand beyond that core group, given both the lack of advance critical support (the movie was not screened for critics) and the impending arrival of Spider-Man 3, suggest that its theatrical receipts are limited.
Though lacking star power, the film could connect a bit better with international audiences, especially if successfully marketed as a tone piece of teen estrangement.
The story centres on Nick Powell (Chatwin), a brooding, intelligent and well-to-do high-school student with a wounded soul. Still stung by the death of his father several years prior, Nick lives in a state of emotional detachment with his regimented mother Diane (Harden). He wants to be a writer - and in fact makes extra money selling term papers to some of his classmates - but is unable to convince his mother of said occupation's practicality.
Nick's best and only friend, really, is Pete (Marquette), a less well-off kid who runs up a debt with tough girl Annie Newton (Levieva). Sullen and troubled by her own unhappy home life, Annie lives out of control, committing smash-and-grab robberies with her older boyfriend, ex-con Marcus (Alex O'Loughlin).
Believing Nick to have already left town for a writer's program abroad, Pete feeds Annie Nick's name in an attempt to extricate himself from a sticky situation. In a fit of rage, Annie then beats Nick, apparently to death, and hides his body in the woods.
Nick reappears in ethereal form, able to see all those around him but powerless to affect their actions. While Detective Brian Larson (Rennie) searches for answers, Nick tries in parallel fashion to lead authorities to his body, and finds himself learning more about Annie in the process.
The Invisible is based on Swedish author Mats Wahl's novel, and was previously adapted for the screen in its native country, in the form of 2002's Den Osynlige. The script is a shared credit between Mick Davis, who adapted that version, and Christine Roum, but Goyer puts his own inimitable stamp of downhearted personality on the movie, intertwining Nick's quest with Annie's attempts at redemption.
He convincingly digs into the loneliness and despair of adolescence, and fashions The Invisible into an elegiac tale of parallel alienation, if often at the expense of commercial viability.
Cinematographer Gabriel Beristain, who previously collaborated with Goyer on Blade: Trinity, is a specialist in glum palettes, and his trading in grey here recalls his work on The Ring Two and Dolores Claiborne. It nicely feeds the respective senses of isolation of the film's main characters.
The Invisible refreshingly uses uninterrupted takes and in-camera editing tricks to convey Nick's frustrated attempts to unsuccessfully communicate with those around him. When he throws a book across a classroom, smashes a window or runs into a classmate, there's a momentary disturbance before everything snaps back to as it was before.
The little visual effects work, by Custom Film Effects, isn't flashy, but therein precisely lies its accomplishment - in the smooth integration with the single-shot schemes that Goyer employs.
With his icy glare, Chatwin showcases a quiet intensity that is in smart lockstep with Goyer's established pitch.
Emo soundtrack tunes by Snow Patrol, Death Cab For Cutie and Mellowdrone, meanwhile, further feed the movie's tone of wistful plaintiveness.
Buena Vista Pictures
Buena Vista International
William S Beasley
based on Mats Wahl's novel Den Osynlige
Callum Keith Rennie
Marcia Gay Harden