The invisible man first made an appearance in H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name way back in 1897. Later made into a film in 1933, an iteration classed as comedy, horror and sci-fi all at once. Safe to say they’ve done away with the former in Leigh Whannell’s fresh new look at the monster you can’t see coming…
Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) has been the subject of physical and emotional abuse from her controlling, millionaire partner Adrian for some time. The opening scene is a tense, desperate plea for freedom as she makes her escape under cover of darkness. In the wake of losing her, Adrian takes his own life and leaves her his fortune but as Cecilia begins to acclimate back into normal life, a series of impossibilities make her question her sanity. Are they just manifestations of her paranoid, fragile mind? Or something else entirely? This fundamental question functions as the spine of the film and that uncertainty works as a recipe for unrelenting tension.
Moss gives an incredible performance in a role that is constantly at the centre of the action. I counted only one scene in which she isn’t present for its entirety. Her character transitions through several states of being at an unforgiving speed and she handles these different levels with precision. It’s not a spoiler to say that from the audience’s perspective we are on Cecilia’s side throughout her journey and it’s perfectly frustrating that no one within the film is. Equally, it’s understandable why. No logically minded person would believe her desperate claims and Moss’s performance is one that both compounds our empathy while inflating their concern for her sanity. It’s beautiful acted. The supporting cast offer up a sturdy platform for Moss to shine in the form of Aldis Hodge and Harriet Dyer. Hodge as James Lanier, a local detective who provides Cecilia with a place to stay while Dyer plays her conflicted sister. Both orbit Cecilia’s delicate demeanour, wanting to support her but finding it increasingly hard to empathise with her implausible ideas.
The backdrop of domestic abuse is a daring way to contextualise and re-tell this story. A bold choice by writer and director Leigh Whannell that casts a new light on the monster tale and gives the stalker aspect an even more sinister energy. It becomes more than a simple chase / slasher movie. It becomes an unflinchingly honest metaphor for a victim’s struggle to escape the years of control and manipulation that they’ve suffered and how such residual emotional damage can perpetually haunt a person’s life. Though Cecilia breaks free from the relationship, the ghost of her ex and his abusive nature clings to her. She has been robbed of the right to feel safe. It’s a powerful and exposed look at a serious issue through the lens of horror, a genre that continues deliver excellence in the form of social justice commentaries.
There are some beautiful visual flourishes from a cinematography point of view. The camera often glides across a seemingly empty space as Cecilia looks around nervously. We are as unknowing as she as to whether anyone is there or not and the use of the camera leans into this unsettling notion. The colour pallet is, for the most part, fairly muted and suppressed. This changes briefly a couple of times, reflecting her emotional state. There’s also some real invention with the effects, reminiscent of Whannell’s previous work on Upgrade. Notable moments include a particular kitchen scene… I’ll say no more.
Ruling – In all The Invisible Man is a refreshing re-imagining of the classic tale with a real world, prolific issue at its core. It’s visually creative, emotionally draining and precisely paced resulting in a tension filled 2 hours that you will not regret spending.