There's arguably no more famous depiction of a man embracing his darkest desires when he uncovers the power to become invisible than 1933's The Invisible Man, based on the H.G. Wells' novel of the same name. What each incarnation of the concept typically does is focus on the main character's descent into darkness, whether he asked for those abilities or not, and fallout of being granted these "gifts." Writer/director Leigh Whannell took a new approach to the project which is so effortlessly creepy, unsettling, and effective that it's hard to believe that no one has taken that approach before, making for an experience that is both effective as a full-blown horror film and as a chilling reminder of the abuse one can suffer from a supposed loved one.
After managing to escape her emotionally and physically abusive boyfriend, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is informed that, just weeks later, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has seemingly killed himself and left a fortune to her. A series of bizarre occurrences begin to unfold around Cecilia, leading her to speculate that Adrian's brilliance in the world of optics has allowed him to fake his own death and unlock the key to invisibility, despite no one believing her, only for the events to grow more violent by the day.
Whannell's previous directorial efforts with Insidious: Chapter 3 and Upgrade fully prepared him to make The Invisible Man immensely effective. Despite the obvious narrative differences, the film largely unfolds with similar scares to a haunted house film, as Cecilia is constantly hearing noises and seeing things move seemingly on their own. When the Invisible Man becomes a more tangible physical threat, the action is frenetic and unconventional, setting it apart from the tropes seen in similar films over the decades. Additionally, unlike other horror efforts with tonally similar scares, we're alerted early on to the fact that there is a figure who has a motivation to antagonize our hero, while a part of the process of other narratives featuring unseen assailants involves not unveiling the origins of the threat until the second or even third acts. While we can appreciate why characters would doubt Cecilia, the audience has a stronger connection to what she is experiencing by being privy to the extent of Adrian's terror, making all of the dismissals of her claims pack a stronger emotional punch.
Following the trend of the film's successes being elements that are unseen, the movie's sound design makes the more frightening sequences even more jarring. When scares occur, the discordance and volume of the score are just as jarring as the visuals unfolding onscreen, amplifying the terror to a visceral level. These jolts are so effective that you'll physically feel as though you're being assaulted as violently as the characters in the film. Whannell uses prolonged periods of silence that go on longer than expected, prepping us for any noise whatsoever to startle us, only for the intensity of those stingers to rattle the bones of even the most experienced horror fan.
Adding to the emotional effectiveness of the experience is the abusive nature of the relationship and how the horrifying events feel like an organic extension of what Cecilia, and countless real-world victims, suffer every day. What Adrian is able to pull off in the film is made only slightly easier and horrifying with his powers of invisibility, without the film ever feeling like it is "cashing in" on the various public reveals of predatory behavior in all industries in recent years. Whannell's script delivers a narrative that walks the fine line of elevating a story of abuse into the horror genre while also having universal appeal for horror fans, who might be able to more accurately recognize real-world transgressions after the film concludes, whether that be severe domestic abuse or subtle instances of misogyny.
As witnessed in three seasons of The Handmaid's Tale, Moss is rivetting in her exhausting portrayal of torment, all while attempting to refuse to be the victim, even as those closest to her fail to believe her situation. It's hard not to root for her and, while it might be frustrating to see her allies fail to believe her, co-stars Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, and Harriet Dyer and their characters do their best to be there for Cecilia, successfully navigating the path of providing emotional support while also attempting to push Cecilia to confront potentially uncomfortable truths.
Where the film stumbles is its pacing, though it's hard to claim that the timing of the narrative reveals is a flaw on the part of anyone involved. For a horror film, there might feel like a repetitive nature to how much abuse Cecilia can suffer without earning assistance, yet this helps sell the point of how difficult it can be to get out of such a horrifying situation. Especially in the film's finale, which muddies the waters of who the victims in the situation really are, audiences are sure to grow frustrated by the lack of a definitive answer in a battle of "good and evil," but this only strengthens the idea of the damage the devastating cycle of abuse can take on anyone, no matter what the situations of their suffering. The ending is morally messy, which only amplifies the allegories of real-world abuse and how victims don't have the luxury of clear-cut victories.
While The Invisible Man follows in the footsteps of more recent horror efforts like The Babadook, Get Out, and Midsommar with its exploration of real-world emotional and cultural horrors with a thrilling narrative, it also works just as well as a rollercoaster ride of terror, quickly getting under your skin and refusing to let go even after the credits have rolled.0comments
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Invisible Man lands in theaters on Friday.
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