REVIEW: The Invisible Man (2020)

Theatrical Release Poster – Universal Pictures

The following is a review of The Invisible Man — Directed by Leigh Whannell.

120 years after H. G. Wells’ original science fiction novel The Invisible Man was released, Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy was released to negative reviews. That film was intended to kickstart an interconnected cinematic universe known as the ‘Dark Universe,’ of which a The Invisible Man-adaptation was supposed to be a part. However, instead, the Dark Universe quickly became the most used example of a cinematic universe that fell apart before it had a chance to connect two films. Three years after the release of Kurtzman’s monster movie, which was a critical and financial failure, we have the latest adaptation of the aforementioned iconic Wells-novel. Although Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man is notably not a part of any cinematic universe, he has done what Kurtzman, unfortunately, failed to do, i.e. make an effective and modern monster movie.

Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man follows Cecilia Kass (played by Elisabeth Moss), a woman trapped in a loveless and toxic relationship with a wealthy optics scientist named Adrian Griffin (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Adrian punishes her, berates her, gaslights her, and controls her. Hoping to escape from her toxic partner, Cecilia drugs Adrian and escapes from his very modern house in the dead of night. However, when her sister, Emily Kass (played by Harriet Dyer), comes to pick her up, Adrian smashes through the passenger-side window of Emily’s car. Emily drives Cecilia to safety, but our main character has been made fretful and uneasy. Cecilia goes to live with her friend James Lanier (played by Aldis Hodge), who is a police officer, and his daughter Sydney (played by Storm Reid). Cecilia, however, doesn’t feel safe. She doesn’t sleep, and she is afraid to walk out of the front door. That is until Emily informs Cecilia that Adrian has died by suicide and, it appears, that he has written into his will that he will leave her $5 million. Cecilia’s new life as a free individual on her own can begin. Or so she thinks because out of the corner of her eye things start to move on their own, and she becomes convinced that an invisible Adrian is now haunting her.

I am very impressed by how Leigh Whannell’s career has progressed. The Australian filmmaker, who has also acted in select films, was once known primarily for his role in James Wan’s Saw, which he had also co-written, and, indeed, for most of his career thus far his success has been tied to the successes of his good friend James Wan, a director who has become a master of horror in recent years. Wan and Whannell kickstarted both the Saw and Insidious-franchises together. When Wan moved away from those franchises, Whannell stuck around for a little while longer as a writer (and, occasionally, as an actor), until he finally got to try his hand at directing with Insidious: Chapter 3. The third Insidious-film, Whannell’s directorial debut, didn’t leave much of an imprint on the genre and it was met with mixed-to-negative reviews from critics. However, Whannell didn’t let that experience knock him out. His second film as a director, 2018’s Upgrade, is one of the best original action films that I have seen in recent years. Upgrade features great body-horror, violence, action, and a pitch-black ending that I still think about.

If Upgrade let us know that Whannell is a gifted filmmaker and not just a director-for-hire, then The Invisible Man, which I think is another impressive step forward for the Aussie, proves that Whannell’s career is one to keep an eye on. With The Invisible Man, Leigh Whannell has made a convincing psychological thriller, a successfully suspenseful scary movie, and, at the same time, made a film with something on its mind. I think it was very smart of Whannell to focus on themes such as toxic relationships, stalking, and gaslighting in a monster movie. Whannell has given the age-old story a fresh update that I think is both very entertaining, stylish, and clever. The writer-director basically took Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane, which was shot on iPhones, and turned it into a slick, suspenseful, and modern monster movie. Leigh Whannell managed to crank up the tension in his very first scene, which silenced the moviegoing audience that I saw the film with. You could hear a pin drop. The film’s opening is completely engrossing, even though Cecilia’s escape from Adrian’s house has been seen in most of the trailers for the film. Here Whannell does a solid job of showing us just how intelligent his protagonist is, as well as showing us how much of a control-freak her boyfriend is.

As the film moves forward, the film is shot in skillful and ingenious ways. Several wide shots allow us to scan the frame for even the slightest bit of movement in the background or behind the main character. These elegant and intelligent wide shots are impressive and sometimes even nerve-racking. Whannell has played around with the empty space to outstanding effect. You find yourself scanning the frame for any clue, so much so that you almost become exhausted. I also loved it whenever the filmmaker would pan to empty hallways, which are often complemented by effective and distressing sound effects. Generally, I think that Whannell and his crew were very smart with the design of their film. The film manages to genuinely both stress and shock you. There are several moments in the film where Whannell has delivered upending shocks that basically stupefied me, and, though these scares can generally be both exhausting and infuriating, I think that Whannell’s use of jump scares was always effective. Towards the end of the film, Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio showcased their signature robotic camera movements that blew action aficionados away in Upgrade. The action is never as violent or fast-paced as it was in Upgrade, but it is still very impressive in The Invisible Man.

These last few years, cineastes have seen some excellent female performances in horror films. Though The Invisible Man is really more of a psychological thriller, I think Elisabeth Moss’ performance fits right in with the outstanding performances given by actors like Toni Collette, Florence Pugh, and Lupita Nyong’o in recent years. Moss is very convincing when her character is visibly losing her grip on reality, and whenever Cecilia tries to persuade her friends to believe what cannot possibly be believed without evidence. The make-up department also deserves some credit for the character’s appearance towards the end of the film, but Moss and her expressive face are the stars of the film. I also think that Aldis Hodge and Oliver Jackson-Cohen made positive impressions. I was particularly impressed with how Jackson-Cohen made use of these small facial twitches to get across how unstable his character is.

On the other hand, it disappointed me that one reveal was telegraphed and thus made a little bit too obvious. I would also add that I think Harriet Dyer’s character is underwritten. However, the problems in the film that will probably stick with me the most concern logical inconsistencies. In particular, there are two scenes where I have some questions. Though I cannot discuss them completely in a review, due to the fact that I don’t want to accidentally reveal too much, I will say that the first scene features an unnamed character driving the main character somewhere far away, whereas the second scene includes a golden pen that we are supposed to believe no one noticed.

However, in summation, this is a suspenseful and almost nerve-racking psychological thriller, as well as a fresh and modern version of the H. G. Wells story thanks, in large part, to its focus on the effects of toxic relationships, stalking, and gaslighting. Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man is a truly outstanding psychological thriller, but also the first great film of 2020.

8.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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