A high school golden boy is beaten and left for dead while his spirit sticks around to spy on the assailants in “The Invisible,” that rare mystery in which auds know everything upfront and the characters, rather than investigating, simply wait for the culprit to turn herself in. Previously adapted as Swedish thriller “Den Osynlige,” Mick Davis’ script brings out director David S. Goyer’s emo side. His take, more star-crossed romance than Matthew Shepard-inspired ghost story, plays like a very special episode of “The OC.” Approach could work for teens, though “The Invisible” will surely go unseen by others.
It’s no “Touch of Evil,” but theambitious opening dream sequence unfolds in an uninterrupted four-minute shot as Nick (Justin Chatwin) sits brooding at his own graduation party while his control-freak mother (Marcia Gay Harden) steals the show. Cameras still rolling, Nick gets up from the table, mangles the cake and wanders downstairs to swallow the barrel of a shotgun.
Nick clearly has issues, but Chatwin (“War of the Worlds”) isn’t the actor to convey them, his droopy-eyed look seeming better suited for a best-friend part. The same problem applies to cold-blooded hottie Annie Newton (Margarita Levieva), a broken soul who dates a paroled thug (Alex O’Loughlin) and terrorizes her classmates with a very sharp knife.
Annie’s the one who attacks Nick — on the very night he’d planned to run away to London — dumping his body in the middle of the woods. But Levieva is no more convincing as a good-girl-gone-bad than, say, “The Princess Diaries” star Anne Hathaway is at playing frumpy and unpopular. It’s only a matter of time before the skullcap comes off and Annie is revealed to be Revlon-beautiful and sensitive to boot — lucky for ghostly Nick and the teen-boy audience, they’ll be right there to spy on her in the shower when it happens.
Apart from peeping, there’s really very little Nick’s out-of-body spirit can do. When the trailer asks, “How do you solve a murder when the victim is you?” (evoking Spyglass-produced “The Sixth Sense”), the line severely overestimates Nick’s agency. It hardly matters that he’s standing around throwing up his hands and shouting in the background of every scene because, unlike the Patrick Swayze character in “Ghost,” he never learns the trick of communicating with the living.
The device does, however, allow for several neat in-camera tricks as Nick imagines himself breaking windows or carrying objects, only to discover nothing has changed or moved. The character is powerless to save his own life, and unless the cops discover his dying corpse in time, he’s a goner.
As the movie unfolds, Goyer makes it clear he’s more interested in Annie’s redemption than Nick’s resuscitation anyway. Could Annie, who guards her secrets so closely even the movie doesn’t seem to know her backstory, be the “invisible” of the pic’s title?
Instead of revealing Annie’s past, the movie sends her snooping through Nick’s possessions, where she discovers they had more in common than she realized — namely, they both lost a parent as kids. What emerges is a tragic irony only teens could appreciate: Were it not for the fact that she tried to kill him, Annie and Nick would be the perfect couple. Even Harden, underused as Nick’s emotionally cold mom, gets a scene that may inspire rebellious kids to shed a respectful tear.
Such sentiment seems out of place for Goyer, who’s made a living from the goth-styled swagger evident in his scripts for “Batman Begins” and the “Blade” series. On the surface, “The Invisible” looks like a paycheck project, an obligatory step toward directing the upcoming “Magneto,” but there’s an optimism here that echoes back to his debut, “ZigZag.”
Goyer has mounted a solid creative team in d.p. Gabriel Beristain and composer Marco Beltrami (the latter borrowed from “Blade II”), who lend the entire production that lyrical, golden-hour feeling that conveys, for the benefit of teen auds, how their high school years are the best of their lives.