Hide and SEE-k
The Invisible Man is directed by Leigh Whannell and is based on the novel of the same name by H.G. Wells. The film starts Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen. The film is also a reboot of The Invisible Man film series from the 1930s-1950s.
We are not even a full quarter of the way through 2020, and I almost convinced that I will not see another mainstream Hollywood film for the remainder of the year that will give me the kind of enjoyable experience I got from seeing The Invisible Man. At first, it appears what we have is a sneaky tactic by Universal to try and light a fire under their defunct MonsterVerse that crashed and burned after the 2017 flop that was The Mummy. Luckily, director Leigh Whannell assured us in an interview that The Invisible Man was and never will be part of any kind of cinematic universe, so thank goodness we can wipe cinematic universes from the list of topics to cover in this review. What The Invisible Man is is a standalone film that brings the themes and ideas of H.G. Wells' novel into the 21st century, specifically as a commentary for the #MeToo movement and how women are treated in abusive relationships. In this period of the film year where a lot of dreck gets dumped, The Invisible Man is a stand out that brings us the full course of horror goodies: scares, ideas, characters, and, the cherry on top, fun.
That seems a bit paradoxical: a film intending to be a relevant commentary on domestic abuse is also fun? Maybe it's just that the film matches my own sense of fun when it comes to horror movies: an evil force torments the protagonist who desperately tries to get someone else to believe what they're saying is true. Eventually comes the climatic high when the evil force is exposed to the non-believers, and all hell breaks loose. I'm aware that sort of constitutes as a spoiler to say other characters aside from Elisabeth Moss are exposed to The Invisible Man, but you've probably seen the bits in the trailer(s) in which security guards get tossed around like rag dolls by something they can't see, so it ought to be no surprise that the plot doesn't end up playing the, "it's all in the main character's head" angle.
What the plot is about is the efforts of Cecelia Kass (Moss) to try and get away from her abusive husband, Adrian Griffin (Jackson-Cohen). Cecelia barely makes a clean getaway in the middle of the night, and she goes to hide out with her childhood friend: police detective James Lanier (Hodge). Two weeks after escaping, Cecelia gets news that Adrian has committed suicide. Not only that, but Adrian's will leaves Cecelia with several million dollars, the money being handled by Adrian's brother Tom (Dorman). It seems like Cecelia can finally stop living in fear, that is until she starts to experience a series of bizarre events that send her life spiraling out of control: passing out during a job interview, her email claiming she sent a disparaging message to her sister Emily (Dyer), James' daughter Sydney mistaking Cecelia for hitting her. Cecelia realizes all these events are being triggered by some sort of unseen figure, a figure she believes to be Adrian. Cecelia claims that Adrian had faked his own death and, knowing her husband was a pioneer in the field of optics, has found a way to become invisible.
It is easy to construe The Invisible Man like a knock off super villain story, in which there is some deep fascination in how Adrian (or just "Griffin", as the history of The Invisible Man character prefers) invented a way to become invisible. This is of no interest whatsoever to Leigh Whannel, because this version of The Invisible Man isn't about Griffin, or at least, it's not told from his perspective. To treat The Invisible Man like some superhero onion that needs its layers picked apart would be a disservice to the film's modern-day approach and its efforts towards being scary. The best horror films almost always leave something to the viewer's imagination; would The Invisible Man still be as effective if there was some elaborate backstory explaining how Griffin became invisible and why he chose invisibility as a means to torment his wife? The question is never, "How did Adrian become invisible?". The question instead is, "What is Cecelia going to do, knowing she is dealing with something she can neither see nor explain?" Meanwhile, Cecelia is framed as being helpless, and, at multiple times, as if she is the one at fault. This puts us face first against what can be considered one of the most disturbing aspects of abusive relationships: the woman feels trapped with almost no way out.
- I am unsure if it's a matter of coincidence that Elisabeth Moss's career, up to this point in time, has been almost entirely devoid of rom-coms and other films that one may describe with words such as, 'sweet', 'goofy', or 'feel-good'. Nonetheless, Moss is excellent in her highly-demanding role in which she needs to look and act scared, exhausted, angry, and every other possible emotion in between. The movements and expressions that Moss makes during line deliveries or when she is searching around a dark room make a whole world of difference: twitching her head, making her whole body tremble when she sees something terrifying, and even once going into the fetal position. Moss strives to make her character's situation seem as realistic as possible, completely avoiding any hackneyed wide-eyed expressions or high-pitched screams. Cecelia is asking herself, "Why is this happening to me?", but at the same time, she takes matters into her own hands to try and figure out how to deal with the invisible force that is taunting her. Scenes of Griffin taunting Cecelia would get stale after a while if that's all they were: Cecelia getting scared because, well, it's a horror movie. Every new scare scene is building off the previous one: Cecelia is either one step closer towards exposing her invisible menace, or Griffin does something to destroy her life a little bit more. Moss brings her character to life so much, that you almost feel as rattled as Cecelia is by around the hour and 20 minute mark, in which she is pretty much running on fumes.
- Leigh Whannel uses some neat framing techniques to frighten viewers, sometimes requiring the use of one's imagination as opposed to simply giving away where The Invisible Man is located. Several times throughout the film, Whannel shows Cecelia walking or doing something in one room and then pans the camera over to a different, empty room. A horror director normally might rely on a loud noise to suggest that the protagonist/horror victim is not alone, but Whannel understands that noise is the last thing he should utilize to try and generate scares. Whannell takes seemingly pointless frames to enhance the uncertainty of where The Invisible Man is and how close he currently is to Cecelia. By panning over to a different room, Whannel makes us ask ourselves, "Is the invisible man over in this room, and if so, where is he currently standing?" In other frames, Whannel lets us know that The Invisible Man is present, but does not emphasize the sign(s), thus forcing the viewer to try and make out where he is. The best example of this is during one of Cecelia's early encounters with Griffin: she goes outside to look around, her cold breath visible. One medium shot has Cecelia on the right side of the frame, and during this shot, we see another cold breath come out of thin air. There is no dramatic, "DUN-DUN-DUN!!" music nor any pan and zooming to center in on the the invisible man's breath; the way the shot is framed suggests to the viewer something is right next to Cecelia, but the frame remains relatively static when a small cold breath shows up right next to Cecelia's right shoulder, which you could miss if you're not watching closely enough.
Sometimes, Whannel just shows an empty part of a room, without any indication that the Invisible Man is there. It's only Cecelia's angry screams or something like a stove-top skillet catching fire that tells us something else is in the room. The main reason this can be scary is because we cannot make out the steps of how something caught on fire or make sense of why Cecelia looks like she's talking to an imaginary friend. Yes, there are moments where The Invisible Man makes footprints or does something to clearly give his position away, but overall, Whannel is very effective when it comes to balancing those times where we know with certainty The Invisible Man is there versus those where there's a sliver of doubt if he's actually present.
- The Invisible Man stumbles a bit during its ending which is difficult to fully describe without giving away massive spoilers. I can understand where some may deem the ending as clever, but at least for my tastes, the ending leaves things a little too open-ended, especially because hardly anything about the ending suggests, "Sequel!" Normally, we can say a character has gone from this point to that point over the course of the film, but for Cecelia and a few other characters, it's not exactly clear what we can deem as closure for them. In other words, none of the characters (especially Cecelia), feel as if their entire story has been told; once all is said and done over the film's 124 minutes, the story feels about 85-90 percent complete. The quick fix for this would be to just have an extra 5-10 minutes, showing where all the characters are at some time later, which also indicates to me that the story leaves basically nothing behind to warrant a sequel. The only future film(s) I have heard of regarding The Invisible Man is an Invisible Woman film starring Elizabeth Banks, which suggests such a film will be completely unrelated to this one. Anyway, I think there just needed to be a little bit more tacked on to the end to give us a permanent stance on why characters made the final decisions they did and how that decision may affect them going forward.
I basically never go see a movie at least twice while it's out in theaters, but I may have to break that trend with this Invisible Man reboot: a smart narrative about an issue all too pertinent in today's society that is as equally effective as a fun and scary thrill ride. Elisabeth Moss crushes it in the lead role, and Leigh Whannel utilizes some creative framing techniques to increase the film's fear factor. The ending leaves a few too many questions behind, but seeing how others have reacted, that falls more in the line of nitpicks than a gripe that matches the critical consensus of the film. Honestly, The Invisible Man may have been the most enjoyable time I had in a theater since seeing John Wick 3 almost a year ago. If I can't find the time to see it again while it's in theaters, I will likely grab the Blu-Ray as soon as it hits the store shelves. Who needs a MonsterVerse if these standalone reboots work well on their own?
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