Review: 'The Invisible Man' is a Sci-Fi Thriller About Real-Life Trauma
by Zofia Wijaszka
February 26, 2020
Almost every person I know has had that feeling. The bloodcurdling, anxious feeling of someone watching them. No matter what, you'll always feel shivers down your back and an unsettling atmosphere that doesn't want to leave. Elisabeth Moss' character in this movie, Cecilia Kass, knows precisely how it's like to be watched at all times. The Invisible Man, based on H.G. Wells' novel, and written & directed by Leigh Whannell, brings the new meaning to that feeling. Cecilia seems to have everything. A beautiful, modern house, a generous husband, a dog. Still, something makes her abandon her life in the middle of the night. After endless psychological and domestic abuse, a distressed woman leaves her husband (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and finds refuge at her friends' house (Aldis Hodge). But the nightmare only begins. Left with PTSD and depression, Cecilia is still tormented by what seems to be a ghost of Adrian. The woman must convince her friends and find a solution before the man (or whatever he is) utterly destroys her and her life.
The Invisible Man keeps the viewer disrupted and disturbed from the beginning to the very end. Whannell brings the feeling of uneasiness and agitation to the forefront, constructing an incredibly thought-through story. An extreme level of tension accompanies the main character at all times. If you think you will watch this film sitting comfortably, you're wrong. You will be at the edge of your seat, and every single noise that Cecilia makes trying to escape or get away will make you shut your eyes and pray for her safety. The sound design in Blumhouse's thriller ultimately plays a critical role. In the case of the main adversary, sight is no use - it's hearing that's needed. Ironically, the greatest tension where sound is the most decisive matter is in the opening sequences. Tiptoeing, Cecilia is terrified to make any noise. One mistake and her husband will wake up. It's only the first scene, but Whannell succeeds in displaying the highest level of distress.
Although the film is grounded in sci-fi, it excellently portrays the aftermath of mental and physical abuse in a domestic relationship. The director focuses on one aspect – the encirclement of the victim. It's hard to convey this with only one actor, while the other mysterious individual is invisible. But Whannell achieves this with meticulous sound design and camera work. There are a lot of zooms, as well as slow movements of the camera. The picture gradually slides from one viewpoint to another, enhancing the growing anxiety. A few scenes also put us in Adrian's point of view, which adds to an already intensely unsettling feeling.
When it comes to the first-class acting, Elisabeth Moss constantly delivers an astonishing, phenomenally well-crafted performance. The actress is the master at playing with facial expressions – we already know this based on her exceptional role in "The Handmaid's Tale". With the help of camera zooms, her character's distress radiates from the screen. Her role defines the ultimate mind game. Aldis Hodge provides a strong supportive role opposite of her. Although the actor is meant to be in the background at the beginning, he later moves more to the foreground. Oliver Jackson-Cohen has only two or three scenes, but in the end, his intimidating, intense gaze altogether with a disturbing persona, complete the meaning of "The Invisible Man" and show the face of extreme manipulation.
It takes a lot of hard work to depict such a challenging subject that reaches into social roots. Domestic abuse is a problem that touches many people and is a remarkably hard issue to discuss. Whannell makes it work and creates a sci-fi thriller that blends supernatural themes with the ones mentioned above. In the end, it's a more scientific look at a subject that appears to be paranormal. And it provides an interesting perspective different to other horror films. This update on The Invisible Man takes the classic "monster" and replaces it with a real-life fear, which is much scarier than most people dare to ever admit. Moments after leaving the theater, I felt like I could see something more. After taking time to think about the movie as a whole and analyzing numerous scenes in my head, I realized that it's one of the best thrillers of 2020 so far.
In the #MeToo era, it's frustrating to see any woman struggling in a dangerous situation similar to Cecilia's. But Whannell's point is to depict this struggle and ultimately focus on the fight in response to it. What Cecilia represents is a chain-breaking, and painful, but so needed rebirth. Her character battles what is invisible. It can be translated to the wounds that women often have that are covered up by clothing. They become invisible yet still so painful. The director’s meaning doesn’t have to be so metaphorical, but the film can be read in different ways. That’s why it's so good that this picture works on many levels.
The Invisible Man is a new look at the old story. It matches our reality and adheres to contemporary social issues. With its many creative aspects and different meanings, everybody will find something to consider themselves. The filmmakers couldn't have selected a better actress for the lead role. When it comes to the titular "invisible man" - he becomes a boogieman of the modern thriller. As aforementioned, the unrelenting fear factor is the main component of the story, carefully mastered by Whannell. It may just be one of the best productions by Blumhouse so far. You certainly should find out if that seat next to you really is empty.
Zofia's Rating: 4 out of 5
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