The Invisible Man (2020)
★★★ / ★★★★
I have always considered invisibility to be one of the lamest superpowers, and although Leigh Whannell’s “The Invisible Man” did not change my mind, it is an effective horror film nonetheless because the filmmaker behind it clearly loves the genre and has an understanding of the idea that in order for something visually undetectable to be scary, the suspense must be turned up to eleven. Pair the enthusiasm and understanding from behind the camera with a strong leading performance by Elisabeth Moss, what results is a work that demands attention.
Right from the opening sequence, the project is a nail-biter. Cecilia (Moss) must make her way out of her abuser’s posh home by making as minimal noise as possible despite Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a highly intelligent and financially successful tech entrepreneur, being drugged asleep. Although not one word is uttered yet, there is a certain level of desperation in the air, that Cecilia’s escape is in fact a life-or-death, one-chance situation. Notice how the sequence is protracted; within this high-risk scene, there is set-up, rising action, climax, and falling action. It is a strong introduction to a story that offers quite a few number of surprises.
Naturally, Cecilia must make it out alive in the opening scene. But what makes her character worth following? Cecilia is written in a way that represents different types of domestic abuse survivors while maintaining an identity of her own. More overt moments of distress or threats are contrasted against silent and still moments in which we languish in gray and pale blue colors. We watch her struggle to walk outside and fetch the mail, deathly scared for her safety.
Moss is more than capable of delivering a spectrum of emotions by employing her highly expressive face and body language. She goes all in. Even supporting characters—literal figures of support like Cecilia’s sister Emily played by Harriet Dyer and Emily’s ex-husband James played by Aldis Hodge—tend to reflect at times what our heroine needs or wants when she herself is unable to express what she needs or wants. This is a story of a deeply traumatized woman in recovery. But she must face her monster and destroy it in order to have a real chance of moving on with her life. The story just so happens to be told through the context of something that looks, sounds, and feels supernatural despite the screenplay offering a scientific explanation regarding the subject of invisibility.
When the invisible figure attacks, is it scary? To me, the answer is no. Still, I couldn’t help but feel impressed in the fact that in this movie a person thrashing about against an unseen force does not come across as silly. The reason is because a strong enough context is provided by the screenplay so that viewers have an appreciation of the literal, physical conflict. In addition, there are three or four neat visual effects meant to amplify the horror (like a floating knife—simple but effective: it is not enough to show the knife hanging in the air… it is actually utilized as a weapon to wring out horror from the audience). We forget we are seeing CGI—the complete opposite of modern horror films in which CGI is supposed to the spectacle.