Contradictory as this sounds, I just saw The Invisible Man. I’m sorry but I’ve been amusing myself with that line all day; every time someone asked me what I was doing this evening. I know it’s not new, I’m sure people have been saying it since the first screen version of this story came out in 1933. Then again in 1940, 1944, 1992 and 2000.
The fact is while I was watching this film I did, on occasion, see the invisible man but by far the best parts were when I didn’t. I know this is the attraction of any film featuring this character, whatever version it may be (only the original film followed the plot of the H.G Wells novel) but here it is arguably done better than in any of those other films. It’s not all about footprints appearing and things floating around by themselves in this film and for a large part of the movie you are not even sure if he is there at all or whether it is all in the head of the woman he is stalking. It isn’t a spoiler to say that some evidence of his presence does appear later but even then you are not clear on whether she is imagining it or not. This film is incredibly adept and making you nervous about about an empty chair or a open space in the corner of a room. It makes you scared when there is literally nothing to be scared of.
There is more to it than this though. The woman in question is Cecilia Kass, played by Elizabeth Moss. Cecilia has long been the victim of a controlling and violent relationship and the opening of the film shows her tense escape from this. What then follows is a portrayal of someone damaged by abuse and her struggle to believe she is actually safe once removed from danger. I criticised Joker for dealing with real world issues in a genre movie but while this is demonstrably a horror film, it does not feel flippant in how it deals with the damage and trauma that people can suffer after these kinds of situations. At the start this is more a study of someone recovering from psychological assault than it is a creepy spook flick.
As events progress the film inevitably feels more outlandish and loses much of the subtly of its opening half. By this stage though you are invested in the character and gripped by her effort to convince other people that she’s not cracking up so you most certainly stay with it. The denouement might be a little neat but it is no less satisfying for it and if you want to read it as an extension of the protagonist’s possible fantasies then it allows this interpretation too. (Hit me up in the comments if you want to discuss this further.)
Elizabeth Moss’ performance is really strong throughout and writer director Leigh Whannell gives her some excellent material to work with. Following his little seen last movie, Upgrade, Whannell as shown himself once again to be adept at presenting established ideas in new and interesting ways. The design of the movie is excellent too. The invisible man, when you do see him, is wearing a great looking suit that allows him transparency through the same methods as 007’s vanishing Aston Martin with cameras that project on one surface what is directly behind it on the opposite one. It’s still a stretch that it would work quite so flawlessly but it’s better than the car Bond used to jump the shark.
Yep, The Invisible Man is definitely one to see, if that’s not still an oxymoron.
The Ripley Factor:
Considering that the title of this film is so specific to one gender, really it is totally concentrated on the other. But for the brand recognition it would have actually been better to call it something else. (Sight Unseen? Blank Look? See No Evil?)
Elizabeth Moss’ Cecilia is fragile but still incredibly strong and even with the sci-fi/fantasy trappings this is a movie that could prove genuinely inspirational to women in relatable circumstances. She is also never objectified (we are thankfully spared the invisible guy watching a woman undress scene) and actually with Moss in the lead she is as close to being a normal looking woman in an incredible situation as Hollywood has ever given us. This is particularly notable for a film that in every other respect robs its hero of normal looking.