The Invisible is quite probably the most dreary film I have seen all year. "What's that?" you challenge. "A mash-up of Ghost and The O.C. with a point-of-view directed with uncompromising resolve at the protagonist's navel is bad?" Sadly, yes.
Here we have Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin of War of the Worlds, although to me he shall always only be the teenage girl's boyfriend in SuperBabies), a depressed wealthy high school senior whose widowed mother (Marcia Gay Harden, cashing a check like you ain't never seen her cash a check before) is an icy bitch, and whose life is frustratingly unwilling to align itself precisely according to the very carefully designed plan that he wants. One day, while trying to help out his incredibly tedious and personality-deficient friend Pete (Chris Marquette), he arouses the anger of the school's goth-lite tough girl, Annie (Margarita Levieva), who after a series of farcical misunderstandings, beats him to death.
Oh! But Nick is not dead, and therein lies what screenwriters Mick Davis and Christine Roum want very badly to pretend is a tale. In fact, it's just a series of events that illustrate how Nick is much less intelligent than every single member of the audience, who will figure out virtually every beat of the story at least a few scenes before the putative hero does. I am totally unfamiliar with Den osynlige, the Swedish novel and film that The Invisible is based upon, so I can't say which narrative flaws are the Americans' faults, and which were intrinsic to the story as originally told. That really doesn't make much difference, mind you; nobody ever said that it was an adapting writer's goal to correct none of the flaws of their source material.
Whomever is at fault, the problems with the story are significant: first, there is the nature of Nick's condition, which changes seemingly at will, so that whatever drives the plot, that shall be his ability. It is not so much that the rules seem inconsistent, as there do not seem to be rules at all. More importantly, there is the flaw that is Nick himself. He is unbearably smug and entitled, yet by all appearances we are supposed to find ourselves instantly sympathetic to his situation. There's no risk of that happening. For those of us who are not presently solipsistic emo-benighted teenagers, his behaviors are alienating and off-putting; for those of us who are solipsistic and emo-benighted, those are the exact traits that forbid us from finding other human beings relatable.
Yet Nick is, by far, the most rounded character we have to deal with. His mother is an unyielding harpy until she isn't anymore, in a leaden and eminently predictable scene where GhostNick watches her break down and cry. Pete is a perfect cipher, memorable only because he fills a major role in the film's plot mechanic. As for Annie, who for reasons unclear has a psychic connection with Nick and develops with him a sort of highly stylized love relationship that could have been quite exceptional if the writers had only been given the good sense to think of it; she goes through such a paper-thin emotional arc over the film, attempting to deepen her and show us the torments in her own life, as to be unrecognizable as anything else other than a movie character. She could have been marginally diverting as a bad girl, but the filmmakers strip that away, in an appallingly literal transformation that brings her from knit caps and tightly zipped jackets to letting her surprisingly well-groomed long brown hair flow freely. She's emasculated, if I get to use that particular word. Despite the presence of a woman writer, Annie has all the hallmarks of a female character written by thick men: she has no real intrinsic personality, but her mysterious quirkiness manifests itself as a literally life-saving force in the hero's life. Zach Braff would have loved her.
The ringleader bringing this vicious carnival to life, I'm extremely disappointed to say, is David S. Goyer, who has held a long and full career, but is known to me exclusively for co-writing Batman Begins. Well do I recall thinking that he was a force for good in this universe, and that The Dark Knight would suffer for his absence! Where now, all I can think is, "thank God he's not writing ought but the story for The Dark Knight.
Looking over his career, the warning signs that he doesn't actually care a goddamn about story were loud and obvious. Here is a man whose first screenplay was a Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle; who received a major career bump from the 1990s' own Roger Corman, producer and toy-distributor extraordinaire, Mr. Charles Band of Full Moon Entertainment; whose only noteworthy film as a director 'til now was Blade: Trinity. And suddenly his disregard for narrative pleasantries becomes much easier to understand.
The Invisible is a crudely directed film at best. Goyer might have plenty of tricks, but he uses precious few of them here. Nearly every single scene includes a shot where the camera makes a big ol' tracking movement around a central point, giving Justin Chatwin plenty of time to wander around behind it and - gasp! - suddenly appear! Then there is the trick used much more sparingly, perhaps in just half of the film, wherein Nick will move a physical object, and then there will be a big ol' looping shot again, and when we come back, we see - gasp! - it hasn't actually moved! Because he can't touch things! Because he's a ghost! Though to be fair to Goyer, Nick's relative ability to touch/not touch things is one of the major continuity cock-ups built into the fabric of the screenplay. Nor should Goyer necessarily bear the blame for some of the worst shot-reverse shot editing I've seen in a proper Hollywood film in ages, although it suggests that he probably fucked up rather completely in shooting coverage.
And so, that's that. Officially the last Dumping Season movie of 2007. Goodbye, cruel April, with your hideous teen quasi-horror! I am off to the greener pastures of unendurable, bombastic effects-driven blockbusters! I cannot say with a certainty who gets the better of this deal, but at least I will not have to listen to carbon-copy hipster rock soundtracks for a small while.