The Invisible Man
Dir. Leigh Wannell (2020)
A woman believes that her husband, who killed himself and left her his fortune, is not really dead but wants revenge on her for leaving.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
To be honest, I hated this one when it first came out. I get the importance of a film that depicts domestic violence in such a realistic manner, as well as one that explores the technological advancements that could make that scourge on society even more terrifying… it just felt really blah the first time I saw it. However, I’m willing to acknowledge that there is a (slight) possibility that I could be wrong about something (sometimes), so I figured it was time to give it another go and fit this one snugly into our 31 Days of Halloween celebration. This is the second on the list that is based on one of Universal’s classic monsters, the first being Bride of Frankenstein (which is fascinating, check out my review for that one as well). However, this one provides a brand new twist, with domestic abuser Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) being a brilliant optics scientist who has developed a way to become invisible and uses this new technology to stalk and terrify his wife Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss).
The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking in this film, which, to be fair, I knew the first time I saw it and isn’t much of a surprise for a film directed be Leigh Wannell. The acting, similarly, is stellar, with multiple-award winner Moss taking the helm and Jackson-Cohen being the sociopathic monster demanded by the role. I’m not a big fan of Moss due to her controversial beliefs (which I won’t be discussing here because I don’t want to run afoul of her friends), but it is undeniable that she is an excellent actress. Wannell brilliantly uses the camera as a potential point of view for Adrian, the audience knowing, even when Cecilia is unaware, that he could be there at any moment (because he’s invisible, obvs.) He also makes constant use of negative space, subverting expectations within scenes where Adrian is present. You never know where he is or where he will strike next, but the tension built throughout allows the audience into Cecilia’s subconscious anxiety. It’s a great way to film the movie, ten steps ahead of James Whale’s 1933 classic, where we knew that Claude Rains was lurking because he wore bandages and looked like an visible invisible mummy.
This one is a bit more high-tech.
Wannell uses every trick at his disposal to alert us to Adrian’s presence: he exhales smoke in the cold air, he steps on blankets, and he even leaves handprints in a fogged up shower. There are some truly brilliant shots in the film, often in the scenes without confrontation. That being said, there are plot holes big enough to drive a truck through that do take away a bit from the enjoyment of the film. It’s difficult to lend them too much weight because the film is done so incredibly well, but the story is severely lacking in these instances. I won’t go into them here because it has become popular in certain places to bash the film, but they are absolutely there and difficult to ignore. There’s also the theory that everything is in Cecilia’s head, which makes a certain amount of sense but is a dangerous path to take in a film about such a serious subject like domestic violence. One of the worst things about abuse is that it’s behind closed doors, with sometimes even those closest to the victim unable or unwilling to believe their stories and often making it appear that the victim themselves are to blame. A film about an invisible antagonist is the perfect metaphor for this part of the experience. If we suspend disbelief in the science fiction in the film, it is not difficult to imagine such events actually occurring, because some of the dumbest people I have ever met can be ruthlessly efficient and ingenious when they are committing acts of violence on their significant others.
Viewed for what the film intends to present, which is a harrowing tale of spousal abuse through the lens of technology and control, it really is quite a tale, efficiently and often brilliantly told. It can be cathartic as well, a story in which a woman is abused beyond current capabilities but who outsmarts her savage and hyper-intelligent enemy to emerge victorious. In these areas, The Invisible Man is a resounding success. As a horror movie, it’s not particularly scary, but the thought that someone could be there without you knowing and using his ill-gotten knowledge to destroy your life is psychological disturbing at the very least. It fails to live up to its hype in scares, but the movie was more intended as a social commentary than it was a scary story anyway. I liked the film much more the second time around, and if you hated it the first time, I’d recommend giving it another shot. As long as you can get over Moss’ icky beliefs.
Who this movie is for: Fans of the original film; Modern horror fans; Battered women
Bottom line: Gorgeously shot with strokes of cinematic genius, The Invisible Man is definitely worth a watch and is probably the best possible retelling of the original story. The themes of domestic violence and the oppressiveness of control may as well echo Moss’ other role as a handmaiden, and the realization that this type of life is the reality for thousands of women around the world is more terrifying than the film. Give the film a chance, for sure, but it’s not one that fits particularly well in a Halloween marathon.