Review: The Invisible Man

Genuinely thrilling and effectively unnerving, The Invisible Man is a great character led horror that should be seen (this will not be the last vision based pun).

Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) escapes a dangerous, toxic relationship with billionaire Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), whose death gives her the chance to live freely again, starting off at the house of friend James (Aldis Hodge). However, things start happening  that lead her to believe Adrian’s somehow cheated death and become invisible, all to ruin her new life.

Universal owns the film rights to all traditional horror film monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman and more), and planned a Marvel style shared universe  beginning with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy. That bombed so spectacularly that it’s now offering these characters up for cheaper, more interesting adaptations – with Australian director Leigh Whannell pitching for the Invisible Man.

Whannell’s horror pedigree, having written and starred in the original (and best) Saw, sees him write and direct this new version, bringing an often tired plot kicking and screaming into the modern world. His choice to completely modernise and reframe the story gives it a really timely edge, and its focus on the victim not the “monster” is something that feels surprisingly fresh.

From just about plausible explanations of the invisibility through to the use of largely practical (and simple) special effects, Whannell crafts a tightly plotted, slow burn thriller/horror that even enters psychological drama and action intermittently. His script places Cecilia at its heart – she’s our protagonist, despite the title – and this victim led, female focused perspective paints the idea of invisibility (and toxic masculinity) in a more disturbing way.

The idea of gaslighting (that term itself coming from an old movie) is given a frightening new spin, as everyone doubts Cecilia, which sets the film up for expected pay offs, but it subtly plays with the resolutions you expect. Featuring excellent shocks, twists and an almost uncomfortable amount of tension at times – with relatively little violence – I was really, really impressed.

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This is aided by the fact that the technical elements – all achieved on an incredibly low budget – help enhance the tension and horror, as well as make it all feel so much more expensive than it is. The aforementioned practical effects build on considered direction and editor Andy Canny’s work – long, unbroken takes and slow pans across rooms offer up the beauty of an invisible character. When handled right like here, this means that even a slightly depressed sofa cushion, or an empty corner, is filled with menace. The rare times  effects are needed, these are lo fi but hard to spot, while CGI is rare but serviceable.

Everything also looks expensive, with cinematographer Stefan Duscio, location managers and set designers deserving credit. Normal rooms lit with natural daylight feel unsafe, while Adrian’s almost sociopathically minimalist mansion is its own character, inky darks contrasted with sickly fluorescence atop a cliff amid violent seas.

Benjamin Wallfisch’s unsettling score immediately helps set the grim tone by mixing strings and synths, specifically using the often overused “BWAHM” sound effect but making it more malevolent, shorter and sizzlingly electronic. Silence is expertly used too to boost the tension, bursts of score frazzling your nerves.

All this though would not have worked without Elisabeth Moss. Her performance will not surprise anyone who watches/endures The Handmaid’s Tale, which shows off her amazing ability and range. She swings from terrified to distraught, fun to serious and all the changes demanded in a naturalistic, effortless manner. It’s full on from the first scenes onward, and it’s a credit to her that the film works so well.

Hodge’s (rare in cinema) supportive and platonic male friend and sparky daughter Sydney, played by Storm Reid, are at turns warm and cynical; while Harriet Dyer is good in short doses as sceptical but caring sister Emily. Michael Dorman’s slippery Tom, brother of Adrian, is one of the more interesting (yet less featured) characters, adding an extra layer of discomfort.

Jackson-Cohen doesn’t have much time on screen, but emanates malevolence and violence from the moment go. It’s an excellently uncomfortable performance that really makes you despise Adrian, and given the nature of the film it’s a shame (but understandable) that we don’t see more of him (sorry).

This is highly recommended for horror-thriller fans – a fresh spin on an old concept that manages to be timely, relevant and disturbing.

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