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In Theaters: THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

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THE INVISIBLE MAN
(US/Australia - 2020)

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell. Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Benedict Hardie, Nicholas Hope, Renee Lim, Nash Edgerton. (R, 124 mins)

With Universal finally--for now--throwing in the towel with their attempted Marvelization of the studio's classic monsters in the ill-conceived "Dark Universe" that they tried their damnedest to make a thing (have you met anyone who actually likes the Tom Cruise MUMMY?), THE INVISIBLE MAN serves as a stand-alone, modern-day re-imagining from writer/director Leigh Whannell. Best known for co-writing and starring in the first SAW and then the INSIDIOUS franchise, Whannell seems to be sticking with relatively smaller-scale genre fare while his former creative partner James Wan has helmed the CONJURING films and blockbusters like FURIOUS 7 and AQUAMAN. Whannell's 2018 sci-fi actioner UPGRADE was an entertaining, imaginative, low-cost B-movie that should've gotten a lot more attention than it did, but with the Blumhouse production THE INVISIBLE MAN--budgeted at less than $10 million, or pocket change by today's standards--he establishes himself as a serious horror craftsman, very conservatively doling out the kind of jump scares that INSIDIOUS helped make overly familiar and instead using the Invisible Man trope in service of an intense, harrowing chronicle of abuse and gaslighting. And it's all in the guise of a nail-biting, pulse-pounding fright flick that's also--somehow, given the potentially triggering subject matter--a cathartic crowd-pleaser at the same time.






As effectively as Whannell uses uncomfortable silences in the sound design and makes every bit of empty space in the widescreen framing seem ominous and threatening, THE INVISIBLE MAN wouldn't work at all if not for the powerhouse performance by Elisabeth Moss, the latest example in a growing line of stellar work by exemplary actresses (think Toni Collette in HEREDITARY and Florence Pugh in MIDSOMMAR) that will go unrewarded because horror movies just aren't given serious awards consideration. Moss has been putting together an acclaimed body of work going back to AMC's MAD MEN, and more recently on Hulu's THE HANDMAID'S TALE, a memorable supporting turn in US, and the indie drama HER SMELL, and she just knocks it out of the park in THE INVISIBLE MAN. She plays Cecilia Kass, who's introduced pulling off a daring, intricately-planned 3:45 am escape from the oceanside mansion of her wealthy boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Adrian is a brilliant, groundbreaking optics scientist, and he's also a manipulative psychopath, a psychologically and physically abusive control freak, and Cecilia has reached her breaking point. She drugs Adrian and still barely manages to escape with her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) in a waiting car nearby, and she hides out with her old friend, cop James (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Two weeks go by, and she's afraid to even walk outside for fear that Adrian has found out where she is, until Emily brings tragic, albeit relieving news: Adrian has committed suicide, and his younger brother and attorney Tom (Michael Dorman) informs Cecilia that Adrian has left her $5 million, payable in tax-free monthly installments of $100,000, contingent on her not being arrested for a crime or being declared mentally incompetent.


It seems too good to be true, and because it's a horror movie, it is. Cecilia cautiously begins building a new life and has a strong support system in Emily, James, and Sydney, but little things start happening. A knife disappears, a door is left ajar, a skillet catches fire when the burner is cranked too high. She starts feeling like someone is in the room with her even when she's alone. She goes to a job interview and finds her portfolio empty. She passes out and blood work reveals a dangerously high level of Diazepam, which she stopped taking when she lost the prescription bottle during her escape from Adrian's. That missing bottle suddenly turns up on the bathroom sink. Emily cuts off contact with her after receiving a cruel and harshly-worded e-mail that Cecilia swears she never sent. She confronts Tom and accuses him of helping fake Adrian's suicide, and that Adrian's work in optics and physics--possibly having something to do with a strange machine she observed in his high-tech lab during her escape--has resulted in the ability to somehow make himself invisible. Of course, no one believes her and she sounds insane, and she's soon terrifying Sydney to the point where James wants her out of the house. But she's not crazy. She can't prove it, but Adrian is very much alive, and even more of a domineering, narcissistic sociopath than when he was visible, and he's determined to destroy Cecilia's life as revenge for leaving him.


It doesn't quite qualify as a "#MeToo"-ification of H.G. Wells (though R-rated, there is one plot point later on with which a more exploitative film would've taken a much grosser path), but THE INVISIBLE MAN is frequently a very unsettling depiction of the PTSD suffered by abuse victims. Though she's given plenty of opportunities to go full-throttle, Moss often lets her eyes, forever sad and surveying everywhere in almost paralyzed fear that Adrian could be anywhere, speak volumes. Almost everyone knows someone who's been the victim in an abusive situation, and Moss (who, at Whannell's insistence, was asked to go over his script to make whatever tweaks were necessary to avoid any unintentional mansplaining and ensure its accuracy from a woman's perspective) absolutely nails the trauma, the terror, and the rage. It's a remarkable performance in a very well-done genre outing, albeit one where the plot holes do get a little too big to ignore. But the film is so intense, so good at playing the audience (if you see this in a theater, there's a guaranteed collective gasp at the restaurant scene), and so inspired in the way it shifts into unpredictable directions at which the trailer never even hinted that it's a case where griping about the logic lapses is just petty nit-picking. It is, after all, a movie about an invisible man.



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