Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass
Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Adrian Griffin
Aldis Hodge as James Lanier
Storm Reid as Sydney Lanier
Harriet Dyer as Alice Kass
Michael Dorman as Tom Griffin
Written and directed by Leigh Whannell
A gorgeous sprawling modern home, private seaside views, an endless bank account– on the surface, life might seem perfect for Cecilia Kass. Her reality is far from it though. Living under the thumb of her abusive significant other, Adrian Griffin, she’s had enough and planned her escape from the prison they call home. Aided by her sister, Emily, Cecilia slips away in the dead of night, leaving her oppressor silhouetted by the red glare of Emily’s car tail lights. Physically apart, Cecilia is still haunted by the pain and trauma imparted onto her by Adrian. Finding refuge in the home of family friend and police officer, Cecilia still finds herself afraid to go outside. Somehow, she is sure Adrian will find her and drag her back into the life she dreads.
The news comes quickly though– just two weeks after Cecilia’s liberation, Adrian has killed himself. In his death, he left a chunk of his fortune to Cecilia. With things finally starting to return to normal in her life, Cecilia begins to experience some strange occurances. More and more, the feeling she is haunted by Adrian becomes ever so apparent as each day passes. Soon, Cecilia begins to unravel completely as her family and friends become more worried about her state of being. Is she losing her mind? Or is there someone or something torturing Cecilia at every turn she takes?
The opening of The Invisible Man is some of the best 20 minutes to jump-start a film in a long time. Clearly, something is wrong. While you can easily deduce you’re watching a woman who is finally fleeing a troubled relationship, the aura of a dark mystery still wafts its way across every inch of the screen as Cecilia tiptoes her way out of her mansion-esque cage. You can see the physical obstacles in front of her and hear every faint breath that might be loud enough to wake her sleeping warden. It’s tense and enthralling and pulls you right into Cecilia’s world, dragging you to the edge of your seat; even though you know she is going to get away, for now. There are jarring sounds to knock you off-center, and you know they are coming, but the balance is so well-formed and planned. In many ways, the opening was so good, that there was no way the rest of the film could live up to it.
Even more brilliant was the choice of using both very wide shots and locations that contain largely open areas. I’d find myself scanning each shot, looking intently at each void between characters and objects, trying to catch a glimpse of a silhouette or object moving on its own in the background. The Invisible Man lays its framing out to play an imaginary game of Where’s Waldo? with the audience. Oddly enough, it actually started to feel like a distraction. Constantly searching every single detail of every single blank space of every shot, only to end up questioning if I missed something can be a little frustrating. It’s a cleverly brilliant ploy on the part of the filmmakers and only deserves praise, even though I found myself shaking my fist at the screen in acceptance of my defeat. On a technical level (apart from a few specific shots), The Invisible Man is a real triumph, always finding ways to keep the tensions high.
Elisabeth Moss, on the other hand, is what truly keeps The Invisible Man at a high level. Her fear, her pain, her sense of distraught worry is front and center. In a two hour film that encompasses a lifetime of terror and ranging emotions, it often can feel unbelievable or wonky when watching an actor run the gamut of feelings every other minute. Moss takes control of this task though, and brings you along for the journey with just a subtle change of her demeanor. There have been so many adaptations of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, and while there have been the twisted freaks who use their power for nefarious gains, we don’t really get an Invisible Man story where the protagonist is not the Invisible Man, himself. Let alone, one that uses the character to explore the pain and trauma of an abusive relationship…
What Doesn’t Work:
…But there are a myriad of films that do explore these types of relationships, all too well. From the 1944 classic, Gaslight, to the more recent, Unsane, watching the downfall of someone whose true horror’s are brushed off by others as paranoia and mental instability are sadly all too common. Adding The Invisible Man into the equation still doesn’t change the fact that each of these stories all follow the same plot points. They all do a great job stringing an audience along, giving us the feeling that maybe these characters are all crazy, and then, of course, they are not. In ways, the brilliant stroke would have been to end the film with the realization that Cecilia actually was losing her mind, and there was no ominous force torturing her and ruining her life. It makes for a more poignant and powerful look at the never ending cycle of damage that victims of abuse can end up living with.
With a running time of just over two hours, The Invisible Man doesn’t drag much, but too many details seem rushed and incomplete. An unfortunate casualty of almost all horror/thrillers, there are just too many instances of head scratching scenarios that are unresolved and silly. How does that Lyft ride show up after two seconds Cecilia somehow inputs her destination info while frantically running in the dark? How in this world of Big Brother surveillance is there not a camera in that restaurant where things really go off the rails? How can her sister really believe Cecilia sent that one randomly disparaging email? These are just a few examples that I can go into here, as a lot of other ones revolve around a specific plot point that I don’t want to spoil in regards to what makes this Invisible Man, invisible.
There also seemed to be a gap in the backstory of how everyone relates to each other in this story. Cecilia stays with police officer James and his daughter Sydney when she escapes Adrian’s grip. Though, it is unclear just how they know each other. It is obvious Emily and James are friends but did Cecilia know James before this? James gives her plenty of support for someone she may barely know. Maybe Emily and James work together, and she is the only one she trusts, but what does Emily even do for a living? I don’t think the occupation and lifestyle of the main character’s sister is a necessity for the story, but for the way this script was mapped out it certainly is information that needed more clarity. It obviously doesn’t tank the film, but it all felt very awkward and weird.
The Bottom Line:
The Invisible Man does not revolutionize the classic Wells tale or the storied history of films that explore the toxic properties of abuse and the monsters that prey on people they claim to love. It does, however, present itself in a well-paced, nerve-wracking blanket that, along with the stellar lifting of Elizabeth Moss, does enough to wash away the nasty taste left behind from The Mummy.
The Invisible Man hits theaters this Friday!