Spoilers might be present but not seen.
I love a good psychological thriller, but nowadays they’ve begun to blur the line with horror using jumpscares with musical cues which I hardly consider essential to either genre. When this movie was announced, I had strong expectations that it would rely more on creating tension with camera work and strong performances. What I didn’t expect is that it often left me with my mouth wide open. This is one scary and intense feature. You’ve been warned.
The Invisible Man (2020) is written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who wrote the story and screenplay inspired on the original novel by H.G. Wells. Although this story and the original novel are completely difference, they do share more commonalities than the invisibility invention. They both make their imperceptible antagonist a sociopath and the main villain. In this version, the lead is Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) a woman who we meet in the middle of her escape from her abusive boyfriend/captor’s luxurious state. We barely get a glimpse at her abuser, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), but we learn he’s an innovator in the field of optics.
With the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer), Cecilia has been living inside the house of a police detective named James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and her daughter Sydney (Storm Reid) in relative calm. She is very scared of leaving the house until news comes along that Adrian has committed suicide and she has inherited his entire state. Cecilia is still very shaken, and small incidents start to occur that lead her to believe that Adrian is somehow alive, present and, of course, invisible. Unfortunately, if he was abusive and controlling before, he’s even worse now.
Here’s where the movie works in several stages. Brilliantly, we first get to see small hints of someone else being there. Sometimes they’re as subtle as the camera pointing to empty spaces. Sometimes it just pans across the room. Sometimes the frame is centered as if Cecilia is standing next to someone and it’s just nobody there. But the dead giveaway is that the music stops, the ambiance sounds are heightened and both Cecilia and the audience seem to strain to see if they hear someone else breathing. This is brilliantly executed, specially when we are not sure ourselves if we’re imagining the whole thing.
Elizabeth Moss carries this entire movie on her performance as Cecilia. She’s distraught, she’s been a victim of this guy her entire life, she’s slowly and steadily isolated from everyone around her. When the movie enters the latter stages, it does feel we’re with Cecilia as she’s completely unable to make sense of her plight to the world. Old habits die hard, so for frequent movie-goers, this is where some sort of savior or ally shows up to help. At this point, Cecilia herself is close to losing her grip without nobody to believe her. We’re expecting a sign of hope and for the movie to put on the brakes and shows the light at the end of the tunnel.
It doesn’t do that. It’s at this point, in the middle of crowd, with only ambient music playing in the background, that the movie brings down Cecilia -and us- further deep into despair. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard an entire audience gasp and curse at the screen. That decision is a directorial choice that I didn’t see coming and left me with my mouth open. Now, if you’re a jaded horror movie fan you probably won’t flinch, but I almost clapped. I’m glad I didn’t. It’s a horrifying scene and clapping would have branded me a psychopath, but I was admiring the commitment of the director to how messed up his antagonist has become.
You might only see flaws if you dig deep. As movie logic always goes, luck seems to follow the antagonist. Certain things coincide to allow him to get away, or for his actions not be explicitly recorded or arrive somewhere and never get caught unaware. The result is that he seems to be almost omnipresent, traveling anywhere he needs to be and appear right wherever he’ll have the most devastating effect. As much as this is a common thing in most movies with stalker antagonist, this movie does seem to mask its flaws better. After all, the idea is that from Cecilia’s point of view he seems unstoppable. Trigger warning for abuse survivors, the depiction of abuse can get too close for comfort sometimes. The movie does have some more action scenes in the later stages, which do serve to break up the tension. The ending works surprisingly well, with some minor details that don’t really detract from the experience.
Highly recommended for fans of psychological thrillers/horror with one reservation. It’s one of those movies that scare you without showing you what to be afraid of. It relies more on suggestion. It’s what you know intuitively and what you’ve seen before that scare you with possibilities. Sometimes you can tell where the movie is going, specially in the later acts but to get there it is quite a mental roller coaster ride. The reservation is that its depiction of mental torment is quite effective to the point that I feel I must warn audiences. You will not feel safe in this film. To get you is its purpose and that it does well. You will not see it coming.
That will do for now.