The Invisible Man
Available to rent early due to its premature departure from cinemas amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Leigh Whannell's take on this classic story is deeply satisfying, despite the odd flaw
Leigh Whannell’s take on the iconic H.G. Wells monster and 1933 Pre-Code horror finally sees the light of day after 13 years in development, and the results are surprisingly satisfying. In San Francisco’s present-day haven of technology start-ups and 30-something millionaires, Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) is first seen painstakingly sneaking out of the gated mansion she shares with her husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Two weeks after this heart-poundingly narrow escape, Adrian is dead of an apparent suicide – and yet Cecilia cannot shake the feeling that he is just around the corner.
The Invisible Man’s extraordinarily effective opening immediately establishes the excruciating tension inherent in the premise, punctuating moments of suspicious mundanity with some of the most well-crafted and dramatically necessary jump-scares in recent horror cinema. It also relishes some of the genre’s trademark framings – notably by placing the uncanny just out of the character’s eyeline – honing them to perfect effectiveness and celebrating these classic traditions in the process.
Unfortunately, the film morphs into a new monster once the central trick comes to light, and it subsequently loses much of the mystery and mind games that make the premise so compelling. An arguable plot hole at the film’s climax similarly detracts, but the film earns enough momentum and goodwill that the subsequent resolution is still appropriate and satisfactory.
That said, The Invisible Man still has much going for it – a thorough commitment to this tech fantasy nightmare rooted in all-too-recognisable gaslighting maintains genuine emotional involvement in Cecilia’s fate through to its dual conclusions. The titular figure’s omnipresence and Cecilia’s growing panic – and confidence that this panic is justified – is a heavy-handed metaphor for domestic abuse, but its anchor in a real phenomenon gets under the skin.
The film is sensitive yet honest in its portrayal of a deeply unhealthy relationship, showing Cecilia’s coping mechanisms but letting the abusive behaviours play largely off-screen; any details necessary to the plot are instead narrated by her. The choice reinforces Cecilia’s agency and does not dwell on her victimisation while highlighting the severity and truth of the thread she faces. The explicit violence is saved for the monster movie – and delivers in spades.
As Cecilia, Moss – who has gone from strength-to-strength in her career – becomes the latest actress to deliver a show-stopping, awards-worthy performance in the horror genre. She captures the tiny deflective habits developed from living one step from a panic attack as well as the steely self-certainty honed by facing habitual falsehoods. Additionally, watching Cecilia test the waters of a carefree life between her husband’s ‘death’ and the uncertainty thereof injects pathos into the ensuing nightmare, skilfully establishing the emotional stakes that are maintained even in the film's schlockier third act.
While not maximising its sophisticated premise, The Invisible Man is a bold revisioning anchored by an all-too-familiar horror. It may not be the most restful home viewing – living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens become sights of unique terrors through Whannell’s lens – but what has been seen, or not seen, will stick in the mind long after a triumphant denouement.
Available to rent on Amazon, YouTube, iTunes and elsewhere