“She didn’t blink.”
It’s a peculiar observation, but when ex-Theranos receptionist Cheryl Gafner makes it, it’s hard to shake — Elizabeth Holmes, the fraudster behind the now defunct blood testing company Theranos, doesn’t blink.
Or at least when she does blink, it is done with purpose, a cool and calculating gesture that accompanies a specific word or phrase. To Holmes, blinks are seemingly for conveying sincerity and establishing trust, not an involuntary response to, y’know, having eyeballs.
It’s an unsettling behavior to witness, particularly when put in the context of Holmes’ dangerous multi-million dollar fraud. But gaining awareness of creepy details like this one is an essential part of The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley viewing experience.
Directed by Alex Gibney (Going Clear), HBO’s new documentary follows Holmes, the unblinking, tenacious entrepreneur, all the way from her humble, Thomas Edison-obsessed beginnings to her damning 2018 indictment last June.
Holmes is responsible for one of the most elaborate and high-risk schemes ever to hit Silicon Valley. But The Inventor does more than just point out her misdeeds to make its point.
Scene by scene, the documentary spotlights Holmes’ unnerving behaviors, shaky voice, and mesmerizing, beautiful eyes to build up the scare factor associated with her power and intelligence.
‘The Inventor’ forces you to endure Holmes lying directly to your face.
Re-appropriated Theranos PR shots taken of Holmes when the company was thriving appear unceasingly throughout the movie’s two-hour runtime. More than once, these images are layered to create a hall of mirrors effect that presents Holmes as an omnipresent terror.
Using a dozen past interviews with Holmes — each of which seems to position her closer to the lens than the last — The Inventor asks you to sit with the seemingly, well-meaning entrepreneur, nose to nose. Then, as you become more aware of the things she has done, it forces you to endure Holmes lying directly to your face, her unsteady voice seemingly always on the verge of a crack.
In its original form, these images and clips are meant to be hopeful, personable, corporate-approved glimpses at the woman behind revolutionary health care technology.
In The Inventor, they are menacing reminders of the threat Holmes posed to each one of her unknowing consumers.
That’s not to say The Inventor‘s portrait of Holmes is without nuance.
Throughout the film, interview subjects close to Holmes, as well as the narrator, offer up a variety of explanations for her behavior, ranging from an overly optimistic desire to do good to a self-imposed delusional state that may have effectively rendered her unable to tell the truth. While these motivations do add depth to Holmes’ too-close-for-comfort presence, they are hardly enough to make her human.
The Inventor‘s creative and engaging portrait of ex-CEO Elizabeth Holmes doesn’t tell the heart-wrenching story of an eager, do-gooder lost in the possibilities of her own grandeur. Instead, its creators have presented a modern, well-informed, and factually accurate monster movie — it’s effective, it’s unnerving, and above all else, it’s pretty scary.
The Inventor debuts on HBO Monday, March 18, at 6 p.m. ET.
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