The Invisible Man and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Leigh Whannell
You know what movies I should really get around to? The Hollow Man films. I don’t know much about them other than they’re about a REALLY creep dude who becomes invisible, but it seems like that idea is alive and well in this which I guess you could call… a reboot? I mean I WISH it was part of the Dark Universe and that that was still a thing, but whatever you want to call this latest spin on the formula from Universal AND my often beloved but frequently beloathed Blumhouse, it’s certainly a film that’s caught my attention! Personally, I’m REALLY excited for this as the trailer looked very good (if a bit too revealing ironically enough) and frankly it looked like the kind of sequel to The Boy that we should have had instead of whatever the heck Brahms 2: Boy Harder was supposed to be. Not only that but with this season being such a bad time for horror movies including Blumhouse’s OTHER reboot from two weeks ago, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Does 2020 finally have a mainstream horror film that isn’t a total embarrassment to the genre, or is this another case of good marketing covering up a mediocre film? Let’s find out!!
Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) has been living with her boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) for some time now but has finally decided to leave him due to his controlling and abusive behavior in this relationship, and despite only doing so by the skin of her teeth she does manage to escape with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and starts living with her friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Still, the road to recovery is a long one and despite not living under his roof anymore she still can’t shake the feeling that he’s around every corner and will find a way to ruin her life; especially since he’s some big shot genius scientist who promised to do just that if she ever left. However, good news arrives as Cecilia learns that Adrian is dead and she will inherit a huge chunk of money in the process! Everything’s starting to look up now… except that strange things keep happening around the house. Did she leave the oven on? Was that knife on the floor before? Is someone taking pictures of her while she’s sleeping? As these strange occurrences start to escalate, it becomes clear to Cecilia that Adrian MUST still be alive and that he found some way to turn invisible using his some sort of super science which admittedly sounds a bit out there as far as explanations go, but considering the title of this movie I think it’s right on the money. Will Cecilia be able to stop Adrian from running her life from beyond the grave? Will anyone believe her story, especially when the strange occurrences get more and more violent and people are starting to suspect her of being behind them? How the heck did he turn himself invisible anyway!? Super reflective body paint!?
This movie was everything I wanted it to be as well as a few things I didn’t even think of that it HAD to be! When other people talk about how movies like Hereditary and It Comes at Night are great for being thoughtful and frightening meditations on human behavior, I just feel completely out of the loop because to me they come off as tedious and ugly more than anything else. When I think of something that’s trying to be thoughtful and gut wrenching horror, THIS is what imagine; not something that delves so far into the utter pits of despair that you can no longer see a light at the end of the tunnel, but something that rides the line between having genuine humanity while not pulling its punches when it needs to. It’s a taught thriller, a disturbing look into abusive relationships, and it’s the kind of horror film that really gets into your head instead of just trying to startle you; gong for that ill-defined sense of eerie wrongness that’s hard to pull off but is found in some truly great entries of the genre like Jordan Peele’s Us and even The Boy which no, I will not shut up about. Does it get a bit convoluted at the end? Sure, and maybe I’d have framed things a bit differently here and there, but when a movie is THIS good at what it sets out to accomplish, you can’t help but admire its audacity and can easily forgive a few bumps in the road when the journey itself is so worth it.
What’s striking about this movie right off the bat is its deft use of cinematography and film language to get you into the head space of Elisabeth Moss’s character; to feel the paranoia that she herself is going through as you in the audience start to see things happen on screen that may or may not be real. The camera does a great job of letting shots linger on empty space where you’re waiting for something to happen in that way where you stare into a dark hallway and dread the possibility of something coming out into the light. Was the invisible man actually standing there in that shot? Does it matter either way? It’s an infectious feeling as you start eagerly looking for the next thing to fall over or for something in the background that looks out of place, but then the film slowly starts to turn the screws as that excitement becomes anxiety as the situations begin to escalate and the consequences become dire. For me, I started to actually see things that I couldn’t tell if they were supposed to be there or if my eyes were playing tricks on me. There was one lingering shot in a kitchen where my eyes were drawn to this oven mitt right in the center of the scene and I couldn’t tell you if it was hanging on something or floating above the ground, held by the invisible monster for some inexplicable (and mostly likely perverted) reason, which is surely a testament to the film’s heavy atmosphere and how intense the drama was at that point. Now that’s not to say the WHOLE film is subtlety and innuendo as there are definitely some bombastic and terrifying action set pieces in here that are well executed and take full advantage of the invisibility gimmick, but the subtle way it builds the tension throughout is what makes those big moments as effective as they are and it’s just a sharp production all around.
On top of its pitch perfect filmmaking, what will make this movie so memorable and will surely be so gripping for a lot of people are the narrative as well as the themes that are truly haunting and brilliantly realized. Gaslighting is what this movie is ultimately about and it’s certainly a relevant topic considering how easy it is to do to someone even without invisibility powers. The mental anguish that Cecilia is forced to endure throughout the movie is intense and genuinely heartbreaking as the machinations of her abusive partner strip everything she has just to prove that he can control her. She’s not only attacked physically, she’s being isolated from everyone who cares for her, and the worst part is that it’s hard to argue with some the people in her life’s decision to do so. While the movie is intense and disturbing right off the bat, there is a turning point where someone who is completely innocent in all this is attacked which is one of the more frightening things I’ve seen in a horror movie in some time, and the reaction to that happening (especially when the best explanation Cecilia can muster is a dead guy who turned invisible) is understandable if utterly infuriating given what we as the audience know. Elisabeth Moss does a great job of selling all of these mixed feelings, from her fear and anguish to her fury and determination as things get worse and worse for her as the invisible man’s plans escalate. It’s an absolutely brutal performance that conveys so much pain in everything she does from the simple act of going outside after narrowly escaping her abuser to the way that the world starts to turn against her so quickly. That’s another thing that’s so great about this movie; how so much of the trials and tribulations she has to overcome are the societal side effects of the invisible man’s actions and the barriers to justice that stand in a person’s way; how he can lay down a trap and let the authorities do the rest of the work for him because that’s how it’s set up to benefit abusive people that may or may not have invisibility powers as well. The movie is a rough to sit to be sure and there was at least one point where I thought it may have gone a bit too far for my taste, but the key to why it never lost me is that it’s not alienating about it; giving you enough hope, triumph, and moments of happiness that balances out the cruelty. It’s what separates this movie from the likes of Hereditary which brings you to a dark place but never lets you up for air or gives you that ray of sunshine that at least convincing you that there’s a reason to hope for a satisfying outcome. I won’t say how the movie ends, whether it’s happy, sad, or somewhere in between, but it’s a satisfying ending and one that’ll stick with you if you let it.
If the movie has one big issue, it’s the third act which is where all the lingering plot threads have to tie themselves together and is where the situation gets a bit out of hand. Not so much as to ruin or even overtly impact the movie, but you start to wonder if they really are gonna be able to pull off everything they promise to. I’d say that they DO, but you can see where they strained here and there to make sure everything came full circle. There’s also a bit too much ambiguity on certain subjects that I would have made just a LITTLE bit clearer or expanded on; namely Cecilia’s mental state and the finer details of the inheritance scheme. I don’t know, the fact that they never put a NAME to Cecilia’s struggle (in this case PTSD) felt a bit like a missed opportunity to make her and the real world experiences she represents feel even more authentic than they already were, but that’s the kind of microscopic detail in a movie that you only think about if everything else about the writing and that character is so on point, and perhaps the filmmakers thought that literally saying it out loud would have been TOO blunt. The same can’t exactly be said about the invisible man however who is kind of an open book right from the start as far as his control issues and absolutely sadistic personality, but because of that I do wonder what part of this guy’s scheme required that she get an inheritance in the first place. Heck, the faked suicide even seems a little bit overkill when you can ACTUALLY turn yourself invisible, but honestly that starts to get too close towards interrogating the premise itself which isn’t really the point being made. Sure, you can ask when he uses the bathroom, when he eats, sleeps, and so on, but none of that serves the narrative that they’re trying to tell which is far more interesting than asking if an invisible person’s pee is transparent or whatever.
In case I hadn’t made myself completely transparent (nyuk-nyuk-nyuk) I absolutely recommend this movie and you should definitely see it while it’s in theaters. This is a movie so good that you really don’t want to wait for a home release to experience it, and considering just how miserable the last two months have been for horror movies it’s an absolute relief that we finally got one that was not only good but truly GREAT. Heck, even if you CAN turn yourself invisible, you should STILL pay to see this movie and not just sneak in! It’s worth supporting movies that go the extra mile like this one did, and on top of that you don’t want to be sitting in a seat that someone else bought a ticket for. I mean sure you can try to sneakily move over one if you see them coming, but if you’re not paying attention then it’s just going to be a really awkward situation…