It’s past the end of February already, and it seems like 2020 is finally starting to deliver some quality films. Exhibit A is Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, a socially aware horror film that puts a modern spin on the classic H.G. Wells story of the same name. Whannell’s previous project, Upgrade, pleasantly surprised everyone who had the pleasure to see it, and going into this new film my hopes were high. The Invisible Man delivers on almost every front, and presents a plot that gives audiences much more to think about than the advertising suggests. This is not just a terrifying horror movie, but an examination of the trauma of getting over an abusive relationship when no one is listening or empathising to the story.
From the very first scene viewers are put right in the shoes of Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) while she attempts to escape the house of her abusive partner. The opening shots immediately create a state of heightened tension, where any sound can possibly alert him of her intention to leave and ruin the plan. This perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film, where the use of quiet and ingenious camera work makes the audience hold their breath until the credits roll. After she somewhat successfully escapes her toxic (now ex) boyfriend, it takes her months to finally get over her time with him. However, just when it seems like she has moved on, the news comes in that he has killed himself and that Cecilia now owns a large sum of his inheritance. This not only brings everything flooding back, but she starts to feel as if an invisible presence is stalking her that seems to be her alive ex-boyfriend.
Firstly, none of this demanding and heavy premise would land without a dedicated main performance, and boy do we get one with Elizabeth Moss’ breathtaking work. With acclaimed projects like The Handmaid’s Tale and Us under her belt, her incredible work here isn’t exactly a surprise, but this performance still deserves extra recognition. For much of the important dramatic scenes, Moss has to act with no one in the room (or so it seems) and not once do these sequences seem corny or faked. The trauma wouldn’t be palpable without her dedicated performance, and if there’s any justice in the world then there will be awards buzz at the end of the year for Moss (there probably won’t be, but the thought is nice).
A lot had to come together and look perfect for certain scenes to work and luckily damn near everything does. Whannell helms yet another fantastic genre thriller, but this time the effort spent and the technical prowess is far more impressive. He takes on the difficult task of making a presence seem menacing even though nothing is being filmed in actuality, and he pulls it off with such ease that at times I had to remind myself I was watching nothing. In every scene after the ex-boyfriend’s suicide, audience members are presented with shots that zoom on on another person as if they are physically in the frame. Both the audience and Moss’ character know for sure that someone is there, but no evidence onscreen exists to back up this certainty, making the entire movie packed with tension and terror. Even when he is not there, his presence haunts every line of dialogue, which replicates the feeling victims feel every day in an accurate and aware manner without trivializing situations of abuse.
In fact, that’s what makes The Invisible Man rise above the fray of many other modern horror movies: the film is really about recovering from a period of great trauma, and the “invisible” gimmick is an entertaining vehicle to get that message across. Horror movies are at their best and scariest when actually commenting on real-life terror while embodying it in the terror of the movie; this is the reason why Hereditary and Get Out are so harrowing, and this is why Whannell’s film joins the pack of great horror. While there are a couple plot holes in this movie–a dramatic sequence in a packed restaurant is somehow not seen by anybody present or by any security cameras–the twists and turns are well worth a bit of suspension of disbelief. While the social awareness of this film is what makes it great for me, at the end of the day it is also just an exhilarating thriller that audiences will love for its well-built-in scares.
The Invisible Man is well worth a trip to the movies assuming the theater hasn’t been shut down due to coronavirus yet. The tightrope this film walks is one that audiences rarely get–more people should definitely be seeing and appreciating Whannell’s recent work (go see Upgrade if you have HBO). Somehow, Blumhouse revived the Monsterverse from the colossal failure that was 2017’s The Mummy, and now we actually have a reason to look forward to future developments made in this universe. So far, this movie is the best thing 2020 has to offer and it contains the quality of an Oscar season release instead of a late February one.
I give The Invisible Man an A.