The Invisible Man

What you can’t see can hurt you

Equipped with an outstanding performance from Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), writer-director Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man is a modern, painfully chilling take on the classic science fiction tale by H.G. Wells.

Unlike the original story, Whannell’s (Saw, Insidious) latest feature focusses on the victim’s perspective rather than that of the invisible man himself. Our protagonist is Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), a woman who has suffered years of physical and mental abuse by her wealthy scientist husband, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). In an opening that may remind viewers of Sleeping with the Enemy, Cecilia flees their modern seaside home in the middle of the night. This extremely well-crafted sequence tells us almost everything we need to know about Adrian’s hold over Cecilia, without any words at all, just by how she swiftly and anxiously moves around the prison-like house.

Picked up by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) after her escape, Cecilia temporarily moves in with friend and cop, James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), who both support her through her recovery. But two weeks later, Adrian takes his own life, and it is left to his attorney (and brother) Tom (Michael Dorman), to break the news to Cecilia about her inheritance; a significant sum of Adrian’s fortune. Unsure of her ex-husband’s intentions, Cecilia accepts the money but remains suspicious.

Despite Adrian’s apparent suicide, Cecilia begins to experience strange occurrences wherever she goes and claims to still feel Adrian’s presence. At first, subtle movements and obscure noises catch her attention and lead her to believe she’s never alone. From minor disturbances such as a tug on her duvet in the night or a knife that slides off the kitchen counter, to more invasive activities, including a hateful email being sent to Cecilia’s sister, things become increasingly unsettling.

Cecilia expresses her concerns to James and Emily, concluding that she is certain that – thanks to his advanced technical knowledge – Adrian has somehow managed to make himself invisible. These claims are understandably met with disbelief and concern for her mental wellbeing, which then only leads to more frustration and isolation. She is terrified for her own safety, and those around her. Desperate to escape the constant torture of Adrian’s presence, and determined to save her loved ones from harm, Cecilia fights to uncover the truth.

Although The Invisible Man falls under the sci-fi horror genre, it is more than a concoction of cheap jump scares and thrills. By exploring relevant issues including toxic relationships and gaslighting, the film is essentially a brutal depiction of trauma and abuse. Although Cecilia has escaped Adrian’s clutches in the eyes of her friends and family, his control over her continues and because the abuse is out of sight, the victim is no longer believed. By attacking those closest to her, Adrian puts the blame on the woman he seemingly loved, causing people to question her sanity, and ultimately trapping her in a deeply distressing spiral of self-doubt, guilt, loneliness and desperation.

Many will be able to relate to these distressing themes and Elisabeth Moss does a wonderful job of portraying Cecilia’s struggles. Convincing from the very first shot, she manages to successfully capture and display the vast range of emotions expressed by a character who has suffered both mentally and physically. From the crippling anxiety and terror brought on by Adrian’s presence to the tenacity and bravery she manages to conjure up in Cecilia’s darkest moments and perfectly conveys her journey of suffering and revenge. Moss’ impressive performance is complemented by a fantastic supporting cast. Aldis Hodge, in particular, shines as he convincingly plays a character questioning the actions of a trusted friend.

Creating a chilling atmosphere which is tangible throughout, the cinematography and production design has been constructed in such a way to make the viewer feel an almost constant feeling of dread, which only allows us to sympathise with Cecilia even more. Despite its rather lengthy 124-minute runtime, the film rarely drags and successfully builds tension throughout. In fact, it feels like you are holding your breath for the entire movie, which is slightly exhausting, but highlights how skilfully the film has been put together. Despite the booming, deeply unnerving music, the use of simple, effective camera movements works well, showing that subtlety is often key. Clever panning shots – which reminded me of techniques used in the Paranormal Activity movies – playfully tease the audience. While long, drawn out frames of empty rooms successfully make simple open spaces seem menacing.

The extremely well-choreographed action sequences also deserve a mention. Although seeing characters getting dragged around by an invisible force can be a little comical at times, the fight scenes here are really well put together and helped to bring some variety to the pace of the film. The use of jump scares were perhaps overused, but they did help to release the tension and considering the frequent audible gasps from the audience, it’s clear they were effective.

Despite the fact the film’s ending works thematically, the final scenes did feel a little lacklustre. The build-up in the third act was action-packed and seems to prepare for a final showdown. But unfortunately, the film trails off slightly towards the end and fails to land that final punch.

The Invisible Man could have easily been made into a gimmicky cash grab. But thankfully, Leigh Whannell’s modern take on H.G. Wells’ novel has substance, a refreshingly new, well-constructed narrative and an incredible performance by Elisabeth Moss.

The Invisible Man is available to buy on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital from June 29th.

Olivia Hill

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

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