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Remembering the Invisible emo kid, not fondly

by Glen Baity

In case you missed it, the Catholic Church recently declared limbo – the space between heaven and hell reserved for unbaptized infants – officially nonexistent.

That’s a stroke of bad luck for The Invisible, which takes place in some ill-defined realm between life and death. Just to clarify, it’s never implied that the film’s protagonist, teenager Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin), is in limbo, but until the Vatican’s official proclamation, it would’ve seemed like the best possible explanation: He’s in neither heaven nor hell, but he’s definitely somewhere and he’s inarguably being a big baby about it.

The film presents Nick, a mopey emo kid on the verge of his high school graduation, as an all-around decent guy. He’s a loyal son to his overprotective mother and a good friend to his peers, which he proves when he helps his weasely buddy Pete (Chris Marquette) get out of debt to the high school’s criminal kingpin, Annie Newton (Margarita Levieva).

Imagine his irritation, then, when said buddy sells him out to the aforementioned kingpin, earning Nick an unjustified and brutal beating. The end result: Nick’s body is dumped in a sewer, and the guilty parties scatter in search of believable alibis.

The twist: Nick, like Wesley in The Princess Bride, is only mostly dead.

The meat of the film, therefore, follows Nick’s disembodied spirit as he haunts the people in his life, none of whom can see or hear him. Despite being stuck in his supernatural holding pen, he tries his best to draw attention to the scene of the crime so he can reunite with his physical body.

There are a lot of ways to dance around this, but let’s just come right out and say it: The Invisible is an awful movie. That’s true for a lot of reasons, but they’re each inextricably tied to the fact that its hero is a grating, poorly realized character. Whether alive or dead, Nick walks around like a zombie prophet, handing out unsolicited, tone-deaf wisdom to friends and enemies alike with a wholly unearned air of world-weariness.

Of course, a lot of 18-year-olds dispense piercing truths about Life, the Universe and Everything – I know I did – but most people grow out of that when they realize it’s really, really annoying. The Invisible, in a remarkably tin-eared move, treats Nick’s age-related pretension as if it’s completely justified. It is not.

His poetry, for example, is the centerpiece of the film’s case for Nick as an unpolished young genius, and it’s completely terrible by basically any standard. So too are his keen insights about the people around him: “You’re so broken,” he observes to his would-be murderer hours before she dumps his beaten body down a manhole.

Wow. “Broken,” huh? Heavy.

Of course, by following his assailant around for several days, Nick comes to appreciate the depths of her immense pain, leading to a finale that launches the film’s considerable self-absorption to dizzying new heights. You’re sure to feel the attendant queasiness.

You won’t get there for a little while, unfortunately. First, you have to walk with Nick as he delivers a non-stop barrage of pointed, painful soliloquies to the film’s oblivious supporting characters. Each of these little speeches is more embarrassing than the last, more so since they’re employed to pad the film’s transparently flimsy plot.

And since these make up quite a bit of the dialogue, The Invisible enters Cast Away territory pretty early. That film survived because Tom Hanks is a gifted actor who can carry a movie even if he’s just talking to himself. This film does not because Chatwin is a very, very bad actor with a monotone voice and two expressions in his dramatic arsenal: “frustrated” and “blank.” Only by spending two hours with him can you begin to tell the difference.

Adding to the drawn-out narrative is director David S. Goyer’s tendency to pause every ten minutes to highlight the film’s indie-rock soundtrack with impromptu music videos comprised of long shots of Nick – surprise, surprise – either shouting at the heavens or looking pensively at something off-screen.

Those passages highlight the real crime here: the suffocating, artificial dreariness piled high over everything. The film buckles under the weight of its obvious belief that it says something new about the human experience. Once again, it does not. The Invisible is billed as having been brought to you “by the producers of The Sixth Sense,” but its syrupy brand of metaphysical hogwash is more in the vein of What Dreams May Come, or the cheesier parts of The Crow.

Of course, the character who learns to appreciate his life by witnessing the void left in his absence goes back a long way. The Invisible, perhaps more than anything, resembles a Frank Capra picture reimagined for a self-obsessed youth culture – It’s A Wonderful So-Called Life, maybe.

Whatever you call it, it should end with the descriptor “oppressively gloomy, derivative sapfest.” Nick may not be in heaven or hell, but the audience spends the duration of the film squarely in the latter.

Mope about Glen Baity’s opinions when you send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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