Directed By Leigh Whannell
Starring – Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge
The Plot – The film follows Cecilia (Moss), who receives the news of her abusive ex-boyfriend’s (Jackson-Cohen) suicide. She begins to re-build her life for the better. However, her sense of reality is put into question when she begins to suspect her deceased lover is not actually dead.
Rated R for some strong bloody violence, and adult language
– Socially relevant. Where “The Invisible Man” attains success is in taking a decades old antagonist character who has since been made famous by being part of the Dark Cinematic Universe of Universal monster movies, and fleshing it out thematically in a way that Christopher Nolan did for The Dark Knight trilogy. The idea of the character is the only thing brought along from the 1933 original movie, but Whannell renders it inside of this bubble of consciousness, depicting female abuse with an unapologetic level of documentation that brings out the terrifying nature of the gimmick itself. Because of such, Whannell focuses on many phobias throughout the film, but the most prominent are the fear of being watched, the fear of public scrutiny, and the fear of helplessness, which easily intensifies the isolation that Cecilia constantly feels. The movie balances all of this without feeling heavy-handed or obvious in the way it captures such themes, and breathes life into a plot that many other films have attempted, but never reached the level of social relatability that this 2020 incarnation has.
– One woman show. Thankfully, Moss isn’t the title character, because her work in this movie is nothing short of brilliant on many spectrums. Emotionally, Moss is an unstable mess of fear, panic, and rage, which are all captured in a way that rides this natural progression of nerves that reside inside of her. There were many times when I actually did question this woman’s sanity, a sheer testament to how Moss approached every reaction she was forced to play off of an inescapable action within the context of the scene. Physically, it’s her choreography with nothing but open air that not only attains a level of believability with what our imagination is being asked to illustrate, but also vicious in the way she throws herself into object and sets with so very little caution for her own well-being. Elisabeth is someone who has rarely captured a level of praise on-screen that her skill rightfully deserves, but Cecilia feels like a roll the actress was born to play, and one that feels therapeutic for the army of voiceless women who have never told their stories.
– Intricate sound design. As to where most films use a musical score to meander what a scene rarely captures tonally, Whannell absorbs much more of the silent factor than I was expecting, and in doing so grants the audience a feeling of vulnerability that terrible horror films have prepared us for jump scares, but here it’s used to further the isolation that the protagonist feels. Whannell often just lets the actions of the scene do the talking, and only used the chilling musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch during scene transitions that summarize everything captured previously. This score is near operatic at levels of volume capacity, but beyond that it captures this ominous feeling of dread that the Universal monster movies composed, but are mixed productively in a way that brings new life to each number. It accomplishes a feeling of generational affair that respects the old and new simultaneously, and allows us easier access to get lost inside of the grim world made all the more effective because of its audible qualities.
– Versatile shot composition. Speaking of immersive qualities to the film, the movements of the camera and overall direction from Leigh grants us accessibility to the frightened protagonist in the form of strange consistency. Every once in a while, Whannell includes what feels like a P.O.V angle meant to capture Cecilia’s side. These shots drift off staring at nothing for what feels like ages, but in turn plays tricks on our eyes the same way it is meant to for her. There’s really no shadowplay at hand here, but rather that feeling when you stare at something for so long that your mind begins to play tricks on you, and when given enough time to grow and gain unsettling nature, constantly make us wonder if this boyfriend is watching, or if our fears, like Cecilia, are getting the best of us.
– Tight pacing. For a movie that is nearly two hours long, I was stunned at how smooth the layers of storytelling leave very little air of downtime between every scene that feels like a requirement. When I checked my watch for the first time, it felt like there was still a half hour left in the film, but to my surprise we had entered the last fifteen minutes, where the payoff we’ve been waiting for comes to fruition. In that regard, “The Invisible Man” feels like the rare horror film that is deserving of its ambitious run time, choosing not to get lost in heavy exposition or forced romances that I feared the film was headed, only to be relieved by the many twists the story took. It’s one of those rare films created where you could use even more time with these characters, but don’t wish to proceed for fear it would ruin the near perfect pacing that makes it as easy of a sit as you’re going to get in February.
– Uncertainty. I touched on this slightly earlier, but to elaborate a bit more, the film has an unpredictable factor to it that it frequently flirts with in the form of asking the audience if it believes what they are in fact seeing. Because Cecilia’s psyche is established as being victimized throughout the whole movie, we wonder if she is an unreliable narrator, or has this boyfriend risen from the dead, or is it all together an unforeseen third party that uses the previous two to throw everyone off of their scent? The answer without spoiling anything lies somewhere in between all three of these, without it ever feeling convoluted or distracting to the personal dynamic between two characters that the entirety of the story resides on. Whannell supplants uncertainty for horror during a time when familiar tropes and cliches have done anything but, and solidifies what I believe is his single best direction thus far in an already impressive career.
– Real scares. “The Invisible Man” proves what I already believed about the horror genre, and it’s that the scariest material stems from real life. That’s not to say that there isn’t jump scares littered throughout a couple of places in the film (All justified), but just that the movie would rather reside in the psychological side of things, where a woman’s mind has been shattered after years of physical abuse that has left her reeling. What’s important is the R-rating doesn’t feel like a ploy to reach for the graphic side of things, choosing instead to use its gore sparingly, so as to not feel less effective or redundant because of its repetition. Whannell instead focuses on drawing matters out in the context of the scene, growing emphasis on what’s awaiting behind a corner or door, and amplifying the intensity of the anxiety to deafening levels, despite much of the silence that I previously mentioned accommodating a scene.
– Hitchcock homages. They are littered literally everywhere throughout this film, but more obvious in a few instances that solidifies Leigh’s respect for the iconic filmmaker. For one, the setting of San Francisco, and all of its winding roads and cliffside scenery. These elements were more than prominent in a few of Alfred’s films, and alluded to the fact that chaos often exists in beautiful places. Aside from this, it’s the character framing of Cecilia, documenting her various degrees of feelings based on facial resonance that she feels during particular times throughout the film. Hitchcock always seemed to do this while the world was playing out around his characters depicted in frame, and the ending especially with this film captures this essence in a way that leaves no doubt who Whannell was channeling, and with a level of class makes it feel like an homage over an intellectual theft.
– Noticeable flaw. The one negative that I can say about Whannell’s direction is his use of jolting camera movements and unorthodox style to subdue the obviousness of a cheap budget. This film was made for a mere 7 million dollars, and when it requires a special effect to sell the chaos contained in the scene, it twists and contorts the cinematography in a way that felt anything but naturally satisfying. This effect worked for something like “Upgrade”, another film Whannell directed, because it replicated the movements of an android entity. Here, it comes across as too jerky to feel captivating of what it’s trying to capture, and only felt like putting a cast on what was really a light scratch of production woes before the camera was used to hide them.
– One dimensional antagonist. I felt like the film could’ve done a better job fleshing out the backstory of the abusive ex-boyfriend, if even just on a technological level for how any of this is possible. On an acting level, he’s completely one-note, complete with Stephen King mood shifts and arrogance in wealth that doesn’t make him even remote compelling for being the titular character. For my money, the film could’ve used more focus on his genius side of being an arms manufacturer, as well as even a surface level foreshadowing of how any of this disappearing act is even remotely possible. It’s kind of a sad when the science side of a science fiction film is almost entirely absent. In addition to this, More personality could’ve also helped in articulating the deceiving nature of this antagonist, so much so that would’ve helped us not only see why Moss fell for him in the first place, but also in balancing an intelligence that is every bit as dangerous as his enhanced physicality that often comes in handy.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+