Film Review – The Invisible Man (2020)
The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man (2020) is a terrifically made, terrifying, and smart horror film. Writer/director Leigh Whannell – who last gave us the fantastic Upgrade (2018) – returns with a movie that is an edge of your seat thriller while also delving into issues so timely that it feels ripped right out of today’s headlines. He wasn’t interested in simply remaking the classic 1933 Universal Monsters Movie, but instead using the idea of an unseen force to craft his own unique spin. There has been a slew of great horror pictures in the last few years and this should firmly be included in that grouping.
What makes Whannell’s version one of serious consideration is how he manages to take a fantastical idea – an invisible human – and grounds it with real world terror. We meet Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), who has unfortunately found herself in a toxic relationship with wealthy scientist Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). While Cecilia lives in the comfort of luxury, her world is one of constant abuse and manipulation from Adrian. He plays mind games with her, shaming and guilting her into submission. At her wit’s end, Cecilia stages a harrowing nighttime escape early in the plot. Leaving Adrian causes him so much strife that Cecilia learns soon after that he ended up committing suicide.
The brilliance of Whannell’s writing and direction is how – despite a person no longer in the physical presence of an abuser – the mental and emotional anguish leaves a rippling effect. Cecilia’s paranoia that Adrian will show up cripples her ability to return to a normal life. She can’t walk out to the mailbox without looking over her shoulder. Adrian’s will left her a large inheritance, creating financial security but solidifying his placement in her memory. Cecilia’s constant state of fear creates tension between her and her sister (Harriet Dyer), so much so that Cecilia has to live with a friend (Aldis Hodge). When she starts suspecting that Adrian is somehow invisibly stalking her, her grip on reality is immediately questioned by others. That’s what we don’t usually get in news reports about cases such as this – that the pain and agony continue long after a bad relationship has ended, with the victims being in a growing position of isolation.
For a good long while, Whannell juggles between Adrian really stalking Cecilia out of sight and her crumbling mental state. Stefan Duscios’ cinematography shoots tense scenes in such a clever way that it calls into question who really is responsible. In one sequence, we think it’s Cecilia becoming a safety liability, in others we’re convinced that Adrian really has come back to life and is now seeking his revenge. It’s a question of whether or not we are following an unreliable point of view. The camera takes its time, slowly panning left and right within rooms, holding on an empty chair or hallway for good long stretches of time, causing us to strain our eyes trying make out any signs of movement. There is an extended passage where Cecilia explores the inside of a house and the tension is so taut that it feels like a rubber band slowly being stretched to the point of snapping.
Elisabeth Moss’ performance as Cecilia is yet another high watermark in a career already filled with them. She depicts Cecilia’s emotional ups and downs with such clarity that we can follow her thought process all along the way. Moss makes us believe that she is both a person wracked with terrible experiences but also has the determination to uncover the truth. There are no false moments in Moss’ delivery; from her screaming in agony trying to get anyone to believe her, to the quiet times staring off into empty space hoping to prove Adrian’s existence is real. The entire way through, her facial expressions tell us how she is trying to work her way out of this problem, always thinking and strategizing even when she her sanity may not be dependable. It’s a difficult role to pull off convincingly, but Moss manages to do, as she has so many times before.
A little bit of the magic wears off once Whannell finally reveals what is real and what is imaginary. This happens fairly early and causes what was a gripping mystery to turn more into a standard thriller. But Whannell, Moss, and the rest of the production never lose sight of what is the central theme: Cecilia’s fight to rid herself of Adrian’s influence. What makes The Invisible Man such a terrifying experience is how it switches the monster to something far more relatable. Instead of a ghoul, werewolf, or some other unreal creature, the scares come from trauma and the hope of seeing this one character overcome it. Leigh Whannell has now made two incredible films in a row and is quickly rising to be one of the premiere genre filmmakers currently working. This is not only a horror film that will cause you to grip your chair in fear but will also make you think about it on the car ride home, while having dinner, and when you’re lying in bed. That is how you know you’ve seen something great.