Directed by: Leigh Whannell. Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge. Runtime: 2h 4 min. Released: February 28, 2020. Seen in IMAX.
I could be cheeky, say this is an amazing film, and say I wrote the rest of this review in invisible ink and just skip to the perfect score. But I won’t be that guy because I want to tell you how great this film is.
Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) escapes an abusive relationship with her boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and learns that Adrian has killed himself. He’s left her $5 million, but she soon believes this is a hoax when she is hunted by someone no one else can see.
The Invisible Man hooks from its opening frame, not because of tension, but because of creativity. Waves splash over rocks to reveal the title of the film, invisible titles shown only because the water reveals them. Then, the film does hook because of tension.
Cecilia is sneaking out of Adrian’s home in the middle of the night, and there is fear in every step that he might wake up. It’s edge-of-your-seat suspense from the get-go because what it would mean for Cecilia if he wakes. The stakes are set from the start – and I felt immediately sympathetic of Cecilia.
The paranoia that comes in the coming days is pristine, too, and writer/director Leigh Whannell portrays that so well. Whannell has been a voice in horror since 2004, working with James Wan on Saw and Insidious (he wrote all four Insidious films and directed Insidious: Chapter 3). James Wan is arguably a household name, and I think The Invisible Man will bring Whannell household name recognition because it is a masterful film.
It’s an important film, too, especially for the #MeToo Movement as it depicts how much abusive relationships stay with women for the rest of their lives. Even when the hauntings aren’t present, Cecilia’s on edge. She’s scared of Adrian finding her. Adrian needs to die for her to feel somewhat calm – but we soon see she doesn’t even trust that. The film’s a metaphor for that abuse following her. There’s an anxiety that makes this film very real and the characters very real, as well.
Whannell’s writing also portrays victims being isolated from loved ones and gaslighting. Cecilia questions her own sanity throughout and at times we do, too, but it’s hard to doubt this when we see what we see. Could her stalker really be invisible? Of course, the characters won’t believe someone who says she’s being stalked by her dead ex-boyfriend who is invisible, who she’s convinced he could do it because he is brilliant. Some scenes where characters try to convince her that there’s nothing there or nothing to worry about capture gaslighting perfectly.
Elisabeth Moss is a force as this character. I sympathized with her from the beginning as she quietly escapes, especially because of the fear in her eyes. She captures the paranoia and anxiety so well, and the best stretch of her performance is when she’s trying to figure out if she’s crazy or sane. The desperation feels real when she pleads the people around her to believe her, and the lengths she goes to maintain that last bit of sanity is a compelling balancing act. She is compelling to watch, playing the emotional scenes well, too, and this performance will stick with me.
As for horror, The Invisible Man is edge-of-your-seat horror at its finest. It relies on the atmosphere and paranoia of the situation, filled with voyeuristic camera angles of the characters where the invisible perpetrator could be watching from. I found myself studying the frames of the film, trying to see if I can see anything moving around. The film is a lot about looking for things that just aren’t there.
Whannell’s an expert at building the tension, and his jump scares have merit and never feel lazy. That’s what I’m always paying attention to in horror, scares that feel appropriate for the pacing and story, and not just scares for the sake of it. Every scare is deserved, and none are wasted. As far as the remake part of this goes, I haven’t seen the 1933 The Invisible Man. I’d have a hard time imagining myself enjoy it more than Whannell’s vision of this because the level of tension here is exactly why I love horror.
The effects in the film also look very realistic, and they’re better knowing this film is made for $7 million. The angles and choreography for how the characters interact with the Invisible Man look convincing on-screen. Whannell’s unique style in 2018’s Upgrade appears present here in those invisible scenes, especially with Stefan Duscio as cinematographer. The way they show a person’s head being smashed into a window and the camera following the action feels very much like Upgrade. The cinematography is excellent here, and so is the score by Benjamin Wallfisch.
I knew going into this film I’d enjoy it, but it’s surprising how truly great it is. 2020 would have to be a good year for movies for this to fall out of my top 10. It has the psychological horror that I just love, with a great story and great performance to boot (as well as good supporting performances by Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid and Harriet Dyer).
I was on the edge of my seat throughout, especially during a sequence that begins in an attic. It’s perfectly paced and an excellent film that will make me paranoid while I’m trying to sleep. This is the type of film that keeps me up. This time, I’ll just hear a noise and look around, but of course no one’s there, because they’re invisible. I don’t mind that paranoia for a film this great.