VOD film review: The Invisible Man
Amon Warmann | On 03, Apr 2020
Director: Leigh Whannell
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge
How do you make something old feel fresh again? Given its propensity for remakes and reboots that’s a question that Hollywood is consistently asking itself, and many of its answers have proven unsatisfactory. That’s not the case with The Invisible Man. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, the man behind the criminally underseen Upgrade, the latest iteration of the 123-year-old story has little in common with H. G. Wells’ original novel and is all the better (and scarier) for it.
The sense of dread is palpable right from the tense opening sequence, which sees Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) free herself from an abusive relationship with optics expert Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) – an escape she’s clearly been hoping to enact for a while. News of Adrian’s apparent death has Cecilia thinking she can finally move on with her life, but when a series of coincidences start to stack up, she begins to suspect that she is being stalked by an invisible man.
The trouble lies in getting anyone to believe her, and that’s a big part of what makes The Invisible Man so effective. Keeping the focus on the victim as opposed to the titular domestic abuser, Whannell’s screenplay makes gaslighting terrifyingly visceral without ever feeling like it’s jumping on a topical bandwagon. Indeed, the fact that there are so many real world parallels despite the film’s sci-fi elements only makes the creepiness resonate more.
Thankfully, that doesn’t mean that Whannell skimps when it comes to the more traditional jump scares, many of which you don’t see coming (and one of which will take some beating in the Most Shocking Movie Moment of 2020 sweepstakes). It’s all superbly acted by Moss, an actress who’s always been expressive but takes it to another level here to compensate for the absence of someone to bounce off of. The running joke that she’s a lock for the Best Actress Oscar in the wake of a movie industry that’s been hit hard by the coronavirus is valid, but this performance would be worthy of awards consideration in any year.
It helps that she’s consistently aided by some clever direction and cinematography. From the get-go, much attention is paid to when and where the camera chooses to linger, allowing fear to percolate in the viewer’s mind even when it’s not warranted. It’s a simple, elegant and crucially not over-used gambit that works a treat every time it’s deployed. Will Files and P.K. Hooker’s extremely effective sound design adds to the tension, while Benjamin Wallfisch’s unnerving score escalates at just the right moments. Even when the movie becomes more Upgrade-esque in its final third – Whannell once again showing how deft he is at utilising VFX – the strong technical work ensures The Invisible Man remains satisfying en route to its powerful final moments.
Still, Whannell’s latest is not without its imperfections. The movie is strong enough that there’s a decent chance you won’t be asking questions while watching, but closer inspection reveals plot holes that are hard to dismiss. Given how much attention the movie calls to the minutest of details from the outset, uncovering narrative sloppiness is slightly disappointing. But it’s vastly outweighed by its many strengths, including (but not limited to) its visual inventiveness and eye-catching central performance. Even while you wonder about any inconsistencies (pay especially close attention to the dog), The Invisible Man is absolutely worth seeing.