After staging his own suicide, a crazed scientist named Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) uses his power to become invisible to stalk and terrorize his ex-girlfriend Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss). When the police refuse to believe her story, she decides to take matters into her own hands and fight back.
Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man serves as a retelling of the classic story of the same name by legendary science fiction and horror author H. G. Wells, and has often been retold in the feature film format as well. The one that you are probably the most familiar with is the 1933 version directed by James Whale. It is widely regarded as one of the most influential horror movies of all time thanks to its creepy thrills and excellent adaptation of Wells’ original story.
But as great as that 1933 film was, Whannell’s adaptation of this story will go down as the definitive edition. It is an extraordinarily inventive, expertly crafted masterclass of horror with one of the most gripping and enthralling screenplays that the genre has to offer in this day and age.
On the surface, The Invisible Man comes across as a fully fledged horror movie. It’s even how it has been marketed in all of the trailers, posters, and other promotional material. But going into the theatre expecting traditional horror would be a gargantuan mistake, as this is a psychological thriller in every way. It’s a story about a woman who feels unheard and disregarded by everybody around her after getting terrorized by this unseen force, and along the way, we get to go on a thought-provoking journey with her.
It’s all thanks to the superb screenplay by Whannell. This is not his first outing in the genre either. Far from it, actually. In the past, he has penned the scripts for several films in the Saw franchise, Insidious, and Dead Silence. He has only recently dipped his toe into the directing field, with him helming Insidious: Chapter 3 and Upgrade just a couple of years ago.
This is without a doubt his finest work to date. With every passing scene, he finds incredibly genius ways to divert viewers’ expectations and constantly leaves you guessing what will happen next. This is something that is so rare for the genre nowadays. A bunch of horror movies are extremely predictable and feel stale. It can be genuinely tricky to find new things to do creatively, yet Whannell has found a way to craft a highly grounded film about revenge, family, and being heard, all while telling an incredibly thrilling story that will surely delight those looking for adrenaline.
As the film progresses, we constantly feel on edge. It truthfully felt as if the titular villain could have shown up at any moment to hurt our protagonist, and a lot of this tension is created due to the absolutely stellar sound design. This is a crucial element in horror. Using sound in an effective way works in spades, which is one of the reasons why A Quiet Place was so riveting. Both The Invisible Man and A Quiet Place feel extremely suspenseful and silent for a large portion of the running time. They are so quiet, in fact, that it makes us feel like we can no longer breathe because we are constantly waiting for something to happen. But then, right when we least expect it, we may hear something loud of subtle that gives us a shock. Using the right sounds when audiences least expect it can go a long way, and The Invisible Man does that brilliantly.
The sound design is also finely complimented with some of the most impressive cinematography in the past year. Stefan Duscio (Upgrade, Jungle) served as the film’s director of photography and finds ways to set up the camera in bone-chillingly effective ways. He uses a ton of wide shots, which makes the audience feel as if the Invisible Man is lurking in every scene, but we just can’t see him.
All of these great technical elements come together to make a visually stunning movie on every level. But all of that aside, what stands out as exceptional here is Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia. This is not only the greatest performance she has ever given in a film, but it is downright Oscar worthy. The Academy will surely not nominate her for anything, due to this being a horror movie, but she really deserves recognition for this role.
She portrays Cecilia with an extreme sense of vitality and emotion, and stands out as above the echelon. Watching her onscreen is a movie in and of itself. She is truly encapsulating here. In addition to this, her character is one that is greatly unpredictable and invigorating to follow.
Throughout the course of two hours, we learn plenty of information about her and her past life with Adrian. We know that he was incredibly abusive to her when they were together, and she felt like she was constantly on a leash. She felt as if she did not have any freedom whatsoever. Watching Cecilia finally attempt to break free from this pain was emotionally moving and exciting. Her character development and overall arc was incredibly powerful to see unfold.
Aside from Moss, all of the other actors do fantastic jobs in their roles as well. None of the others feel sidelined, either. They all feel like they are playing integral roles in the overarching story. A story that was equal parts spellbinding and shocking. If Whannell wants to continue making movies like this, there would be absolutely no complaining from me.
Inventive and brilliantly suspenseful, The Invisible Man is a masterclass of horror, and further cements Leigh Whannell as one of the genre’s most exciting voices.
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