In the wake of leaving her abusive ex, a woman still finds his hold on her is as tight as ever. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, The Invisible Man is a refreshing take on this Universal Classic Monster with a modern twist. It’s a terrorizing look into abusive relationships and just how far someone could go to stay in control, becoming the villain hidden in plain sight.
Trapped in an abusive relationship, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) plans her escape with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer). He had dictated every part of her life over the last few years, and though she’s free now, the fear is still very real for her. She moves in with her dear friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), who help her regain control of her life. However, her progress is halted as she finds out her ex Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has committed suicide.
A brilliant scientist, Adrian could have had everything he ever wanted, but his sights were set firm on Cecilia. She’s deeply confused by the notion he took his own life, furthermore that he would leave her a large portion of his fortune. While those around her celebrate the fact that he is gone, Cecilia begins to feel that he is still very much around, playing his cruel and dangerous tricks once more. A genius in the field of optics, he had every opportunity to level up his abusive tactics, one that will position Cecilia as the unhinged one.
This is one of those films that is pure perfection from start to finish. As a fan of Whannell’s work, which includes Saw and Insidious, I know he can deliver on scares. What I was blown away by was the psychological terror he’s created with The Invisible Man. The film is smart and it plays with you as a viewer, mimicking what Adrian is doing to Cecilia throughout. It relies on nothing more than a thoughtful script and intelligent frights. Everything is expertly crafted, never leaning towards cheap scares and continuing to shock.
The first act is every bit of a mindful thriller. We come in right at Cecilia’s escape, never really meeting Adrian ourselves. I don’t know how conscious this move was, but it’s one that I felt was important for a later point, as we are never given the opportunity to develop an objective opinion of him. We stay with her on this journey as she deals with PTSD and even agoraphobia. It builds tension, but not at the viewers expense. We’re truly in the healing process with her, feeling her pain and paranoia. Specifically when she begins to experience these moments of torment at the hands of her invisible adversary, it speaks to the true horror and effect of being gaslit and made to feel crazy in your experiences.
As the film explores the idea of gaslighting, we are hit with a gut-wrenching shift in events that flip this film from a psychological thriller to pure terror – beyond what you could imagine. It is so unexpected and just speaks to the originality of the film, despite being a reboot / adaptation. You can even strip away any elements that are more in the realm of science fiction, and still be hit with the same level of horror – which makes the film so much scarier when you think about it.
I can’t applaud the film as a whole without highlighting Moss’ incredible performance, which is no surprise if you’ve seen her emotional gymnastics in The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s no different with this film. Her characters evolution throughout is an empowering story that can really speak to victims of abuse. She is easily characterized as “weak”, which she believes, but as she finds her inner strength you uncover this truly smart, powerful presence from within – one we all have.
After a less-than-stellar start to a new Universal Monsters franchise with 2017’s The Mummy, plans for an Invisible Man film were cancelled. But with swift action, they changed course and I am so happy to see this character return to its horror roots, at the hands of Blumhouse Productions and Whannell. I truly hope to see them continue producing contemporary versions of these classic villains.
The Invisible Man hits theaters this Friday!