by Austin Casey | Staff Writer
Which is more frightening: a menacing monster you can lock eyes with, or one that stalks outside the comfort of sight? Writer/director Leigh Whannell asks and answers this question with his reimagined version of “The Invisible Man,” the new Blumhouse production that easily outshines the lackluster other horror releases so far this year. While the founding idea of course comes from stale old source material as does nearly everything at this point, this new twist on the classic premise executes the rare mix of both themes and thrills, accompanied by welcome feelings of originality and energy throughout.
The plot can almost entirely be assumed by either the spoiler-laden trailer or simply the three words of the title: a woman named Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) leaves her abusive scientist boyfriend Adrian, who then fakes his own death and tortures her from “beyond the grave” using optical suit technology that renders him invisible to the naked eye. As the film goes on, Cecilia becomes more and more paranoid about her ex and his shady attorney brother, becoming more and more convinced that this is all some dark trick being played to further control her. The larger issue is that nobody, not even her sister believes her when she tries to explain her perils, rendering her entirely alone in this fight. The main tension running throughout the second half is whether our protagonist can expose Adrian and his brother as the cruel men they are and get revenge before her life is further ruined (or even ended).
It may sound like a campy idea, and perhaps it is, but the movie smartly stays entirely self-serious with its premise, playing two cards of psychological horror at the same time: Cecilia both cannot trust her own senses as danger detectors (quite panic-inducing), and also is entirely alone and alienated in her pain (providing a feeling of hopeless anguish). Without being obvious, potentially to the point of it not even being entirely intentional, “The Invisible Man” truly becomes a timely story about an abuser/abused relationship and the question of the believability of a woman and her personal experiences. While Cecilia claims Adrian was abusive before the events of the movie are shown, there are no flashbacks, leaving the audience to also decide for themselves whether or not she is telling the truth. And for almost the entire runtime, the best word to describe her character might be “vulnerable,” both emotionally and physically. It may be giving too much credit to the writer of “Saw” and a producer (Jason Blum) who has the reputation of caring about profits above all else, but there is actually quite an interesting and non-forced #MeToo movement subtext to the construction of this thriller.
The formal elements of the film are mostly additive to the establishment of an uneasy, spooky tone too. Camera shots and movements include massive amounts of negative space within frames, but often do not reveal whether or not the aggressor is inhabiting that space, opening the potential of danger at nearly every moment. Elements of production design that thematically reference vision in some way—like frosted or foggy glass, cameras, and colored liquids like blood and paint—are repeated throughout. Only one of the six main performances feels slightly disingenuous (Cecilia’s sister), and the music, while a tad too overbearing in some moments, keeps the pace at a properly hasty speed for this 124-minute rollercoaster.
The script isn’t bulletproof and leaves a few unanswered questions (How did the Invisible Man get around so fast? Does he have an invisible car? What motivation would he have for hurting so many nameless innocent bystanders at the end? Does anyone else have these suits?). But “The Invisible Man” combines multiple horror subgenres in a way that utilizes all of them well enough to form a movie that will likely satisfy niche fans, general audiences, and critics all at once. It is entertaining without being overly ambitious, and squeezes as many thrills as possible from its sensory-grounded premise while not becoming tiring. Is it an all-time classic, no. But I would watch this ten more times before giving its vision-based cousin from last year—“Bird Box”—another look. 7/10 pinecones