Loosely based on the 1897 novella of the same name by H. G. Wells and a pseudo-remake of the 1933 science-fiction thriller, “The Invisible Man” is a horror vehicle helmed by Leigh Whannell, the legendary creator of “Saw” of “Insidious”. However, if you are more like me and had no idea about this film’s connections to other stories, and all you had to go on was a trailer that you feared maybe revealed too much information, “The Invisible Man” is a suspenseful and well-earned thriller that is expertly paced and acted and turns a potentially unbelievable premise into a psychological torture session that is easily connected with.
My history with the horror/thriller genre is relatively thin compared to that of other genres. It is only in the past few years that I have taken up films in this genre and began to learn what makes an effective horror story. Like all avenues of storytelling, there are certain common pitfalls stories of this genre must be wary of, lest they stray into the realm of cheap, unearned reactions at the expense of coherent movie elements. Going into the theater, I was anticipating a jarring and physical horror that was reliant on jump-scares and sudden bursts of sound to punctuate the film, only to be pleasantly surprised by the disciplined and ambitious approach used in incorporating sound and visuals in the storytelling.
The most important factor in the success of this film is Elizabeth Moss. She is the fulcrum in which the film could potentially shift from believable to outlandish. Her character, Cecilia, endures the brutal realities of an abusive relationship as well as the psychological tortures of an unseen entity. She is responsible for portraying the effects of those traumas, often in scenes without the presence of anyone else on-screen with her, and she does a tremendous job. With a lesser effort, this role could easily have suffered from overacting and removed any sense of realism from the film.
Likewise, the direction of this film is commendable. Whannell expertly makes use of techniques that capitalize on a lack of sound and visuals to suggest the presence of danger. Scenes have their suspense built from what cannot be observed, and shots of empty silent rooms work to establish an omnipresent feeling of paranoia throughout the film. With my initial concerns in mind, I was very pleased that “The Invisible Man” did not rely on loud noises and jump scares to make its presence known. While they may appear in an isolated moment or two, it is never overplayed and the suspense is almost always earned.
When you combine the performance of Moss with these techniques, this film becomes a deeper, psychological experience. The story that plays out presents more mental torture than it does a physical one. When the Invisible Man harms, it is always more profound when the physical victim is someone other than Cecilia. They could have spent the entire film beating her into submission by pantomiming physical recoil, but instead look to present her as a victim with fleeting sanity and credibility, to the point where she becomes an unreliable observer of her own life.
There are not many flaws in this movie, but among them is that it does require a certain level of suspension of disbelief for some of the events to transpire, at least in a logistical sense. There are some elements of science-fiction that characters capitalize on to allow some of their actions to be possible, and within the world and rules that have been established, they mostly work. However, the more you ponder just how certain characters know what they do or got to where they are at certain points of the film, the more you will come to understand that the film requires the viewer to accept that things just are the way they are and these “leaps” in logic are probably just too tedious to explain while remaining entertaining. By no means are these series of leaps a fatality to the film, and it is very possible to enjoy the movie without ever thinking of them.
Unfortunately, I imagine “The Invisible Man” will follow suit to many of the well-made female-led horror films of the last few years, such as “Us” and “Hereditary”, as films that might go forgotten later in their year when more “conventional” films begin to dilute the waters. I am not quite sure this one is up to the same standard as those, but there are elements of this film that warrant attention and it is my hope that this eventually evolves into a cult classic. This movie is an intense experience and definitely succeeds in communicating the stress of its story to its viewers.
I would give “The Invisible Man” a very respectable 8.7 out of 10
Starring: Elizabeth Moss, Aldis Hoge, Storm Reid, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman
Directed by: Leigh Whannell
Runtime: 2 Hours and 4 Minutes