The Invisible Man (2020)
The Invisible Man (2020)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.

Release Date: February 28th, 2020 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Leigh Whannell Actors: Elisabeth Moss, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen

 


 

W

ith some creative opening credits, the stage is set for a creepy good time in a massive, architectural convolution of a home in San Francisco, California, where Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) plots an elaborate escape. Dodging security cameras and a poorly situated dog bowl, she drugs her boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), retrieves a hidden bag filled with money and other necessities, and tiptoes through the garage. With Leigh Whannell (the writer of “Saw” and “Insidious”) in the director’s chair, there are an expected number of sudden, loud sounds to rattle the senses and misplaced objects to stumble over (Cecilia even manages to set off a car alarm) during her flight to safety – along with, of course, the frightening, unforeseen appearance of the antagonist in the last possible second. It’s almost comical how much the cinematography and sound effects try to spook the viewer.

Yet the initial, formulaic horror movie shocks are soon replaced with more realistic nightmares when, two weeks later, Cecilia is informed that Adrian has taken his own life. She now resides with childhood friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), while also benefitting from emotional support from her sister, Emily Kass (Harriet Dyer). Further upsetting Cecilia’s newfound sense of freedom, however, is a generous allotment of money from a trust set up by Adrian, whose career in optics and related technologies has afforded him considerable resources. And these funds are administered by Adrian’s brother Tom (Michael Dorman), whom Cecilia has never sympathized with, uncertain if his claims of being bullied by Adrian are truthful.

“You’re here with us now. And you’re safe.” The setup is surprisingly devoid of over-the-top scenarios; there’s an impressive, petrifying realism to the notions of physical and psychological abuse, stalking, invading privacy, and controlling others through manipulation and coercion (coupled with the power imbalance of extreme wealth). Like “Sleeping with the Enemy,” though soon merging with the more outlandish plots of “The Entity” and “Candyman” (with hints of “Rosemary’s Baby”), “The Invisible Man” builds a generous helping of dread through universally understandable fears – and ones that will strike a particular nerve with victims of abuse.

Aiding the scares are voyeuristic camera angles that linger on empty hallways or spy on unsuspecting subjects, twinned with characters staring intently at nothing. These are sensationally effective methods of steadily introducing the inevitable appearance (or non-appearance) of a tormenting figure – much more so than when objects move on their own or turn up in conspicuous places. Funnily enough, a lot of these happenings take place under the cover of night, despite the fact that that would have no bearing on an invisible man. But the inherent menace of the dark fuels sequences in which characters timidly investigate the possibility of an intruder, stretching momentary pauses into excruciatingly long ones. The protracted tension is then, occasionally, not quelled by a clamorous boo moment, leaving nerves appropriately jangled.

“Adrian will haunt you if you let him. Don’t let him.” The film could have been a supremely unnerving vehicle for Cecilia’s mental unraveling, what with all the mind-game incidents that might be explained away with psychosis (considering that the point of view is always hers, and not that of the stalker, like in 2000’s “Hollow Man”). But there’s no way to conceal the real culprit; the audience is already well aware that an invisible man is behind the torment (and it’s a Count of Monte Cristo level of social destruction, deviously depleting the heroine of her allies and her sanity). Moss is exceptional, taking a routine – if somewhat daffy – thriller premise and turning it into one of believable trepidation. Strangely, the modernization of H.G. Wells’ popular novel is something of a weak point, shifting actual invisibility into mere technological advancements, which then become dependent on computer graphics (some of which aren’t as polished as others).

But Moss’ portrayal of a gaslighted woman is astounding, harassed into a pitiable low point, utterly isolated from friends and family. This allows for the repeatedly victimized victim to force her way back (a tremendous figurative distance) into a position of power, cathartically regaining control over her abuser. The last act is electrifying (and even a bit action-packed), boasting some twists and turns and – while not entirely original – dependable, crowd-pleasing satisfaction.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10