Faith and delusion are common bedfellows in the game of love. We give ourselves over to the potential enchantment with reckless abandon then hope to the heavens our fragile romantic bubbles don’t break. In Leon Ford’s charming Griff the Invisible, the life of a conflicted modern-day superhero takes the same type of blind, unflinching commitment. Adorning a black rubber suit with a gigantic G on his chest, Griff (Ryan Kwanten) is equally influenced by the aesthetics of Batman and Superman, merging their fictional identities to create his own powerful voice. But the hyper-realized surroundings and incessant use of jarring fish-eye lenses in the film’s comic-book vision of urban Australia proves this perspective isn’t entirely balanced. But whose view is askew? Is it ours, or Griff’s?
The answers aren’t as important as the context in which they are asked. The opening action scene, which finds Griff scanning a crime-ridden neighborhood using a myriad of high-power counter-surveillance gear before pummeling a group of costumed thugs, reveals the pure dedication he exhibits toward a self-prescribed superhero creed: “It’s not a choice, it’s a responsibility.” As Griff runs down the dimly lit rain-drenched alley, the dramatic slow-motion shots seem less an artistic choice by the filmmakers than something willed on the story by the character himself. Fittingly, the relationship between distrusting point of view and physical space becomes a skeleton key to Griff’s disturbing desire for anonymity. Later, it will also define his relationship with Melody (Maeve Dermody), an equally kooky experimentalist who’s casually dating his conservative older brother, Tim (Patrick Brammall).
The art of play inherent to Griff’s imagination is deconstructed and diminished at every turn, mostly during work hours by a yuppie bully named Tony (Tony Schmitz). But the psychological torture Griff suffers at his office is just another social barrier he can’t break down, another real-world conflict he’d rather ignore. It’s only when Griff meets Melody, who’s equally obsessed with the study of atoms and the unseen space between objects, does his crime-fighting world becomes more fluid and expansive. So many possibilities emerge during their moments together, be it the awkwardness of the initial attraction or the magnetic explosion framing their first kiss. Melody sees her own unexplainable obsessions in Griff’s eyes, and tries everything to indoctrinate herself into his world. Their bond only grows stronger when Griff begins to experiment with recipes for an invisibility suit.
Director Ford displays a wonderful empathy in his examination of Griff and Melody’s lonely environments, allowing their fringe perspectives to flower organically from the mise-en-scène. A few examples stand out, like when Griff walks down the street dressed in a bright yellow rain jacket, jarringly segregated from the morning buzz surrounding him. His social invisibility becomes literal when he wonderfully blends into the yellow wall behind him at a bus stop, leaving only his face tangible to the camera. The momentary omniscience Griff feels toward the people walking by makes him smile, a rare moment of personal power over the collective. Melody’s introduction is far clumsier, coming literally in the form of a knock on the head. Alone in her room, she tests one of her radical scientific theories by trying to walk through a wall, falling to the floor with a loud thud. These early moments only reveal how potently Griff and Melody share a loneliness formed by trauma and fear, a curiosity for wonderment in the unseen.
Thin on actual plot, Griff the Invisible recycles these fascinating character scenarios multiple times, hoping the chemistry of the actors will carry the day. Unfortunately, even the strong ensemble cast can’t sustain the breakneck lunacy of the early sequences, and Ford’s direction grows increasingly stale in the later segments. The expected melodrama within the love triangle of Griff, Melody, and Tim quickly wears thin, turning downright sloppy in one terrible conceived dramatic sequence that finds all three trapped in the same apartment. Even worse, the increasingly quirky conversations start to sound like a version of Miranda July’s greatest hits, creating a tonal mishmash that feels more contrived than anything.
Despite its adherence to simple narrative closure and equivocation, Griff the Invisible remains an experimental genre film split down the middle by multiple personalities at odds with the outside world. In their shared alienation, Griff and Melody discover a mutual appreciation for escape, but is that enough to secure them a happy ending? Like his cornball superhero theatrics, Griff sees romance as just another form of invisibility from his increasingly fractured psychological issues. But by the end of the film, we learn to stop judging him and let go. Griff’s got faith in the delusion, so why shouldn’t we?