Cecilia Kass has done it. She has finally escaped the terror of Adrian Griffin, her psychopathic millionaire boyfriend whose controlling obsession with her turned to violence and worse. Though she has found her physical freedom, she is a broken woman, barely able to leave the house due to her fear that Adrian will find her and drag her back to a life of unending manipulation and torture. When she gets word that Adrian has committed suicide and that she is now the beneficiary of a few million dollars, she decides to try to rebuild her life with the help of her sister Emily, her friend James, and James' teenage daughter Sydney. Alas, Adrian might not be as dead as everyone thinks, and he may be using a new and clever way of tormenting her.
The latest reimagining of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man is a harrowing affair. Eschewing the spectacle and twisted fun of earler iterations, writer/director Leigh Whannell's take on Griffin is full of psychological distress, ratcheting tension, and slow-burn domestic horror. On one hand, it's incredibly well-made, with Whannell continuing to impress with his adeptness with mood and style and Elisabeth Moss turning in an incredible performance as the emotionally brutalized heroine. On the other hand, 2020's The Invisible Man is not a particularly enjoyable ride, being too long and too unsettling to make for many repeat viewings.
Whannell makes a few interesting choices right off the bat, such as taking the focus off of the titular invisible man. Oliver Jackson-Cohen (from Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House) plays Griffin, but he rarely ever speaks and keeps his invisible antics surprisingly low-key until the final act, ensuring that nobody but Cecilia knows he's there. Instead of filling the screen with playful effects and overlaying delicious monologuing from an unseen villain, then, Whannell opts for long takes of empty space, implying the presence of the monster instead of giving him away.
I can't gush enough about how good the acting is
In fact, you see so little evidence of him early on that it almost becomes believable that Whannell is pulling a fast one on the audience and that Cecilia has, in fact, snapped, that everything that is happening is her own doing combined with a fair bit of hallucination and jumped conclusions. Part of me wants to celebrate this aspect of the story, to applaud it for really showing how fragile Cecilia's mental state has become and how hard it is for anyone to believe her when she starts talking about being attacked by her invisible dead boyfriend.
On the other hand, this is a pretty far cry from what audiences have come to expect from a movie called The Invisible Man. Granted, late in the movie, things do eventually start getting crazy, but it takes a long time to get there and there isn't much of it. It's also, as I mentioned before, not particularly fun. It's traumatic, graphic, and distressing more than entertaining, and while I'm happy to see a modern Universal horror movie finally embrace the actual horror, Whannell is taking it much further than most audiences will probably expect.
There be spoilers here
Also--and here's a minor spoiler alert for something that was sort-of spoiled in the trailers--the technology of invisibility this time is a full-body cloaking suit. I don't actually have much of a problem with this, to be honest, and it does get around a lot of the thorny logistical problems that even H.G. Wells had to contrive hand-waving explanations for, such as what happens when an invisible man eats or why he doesn't immediately go blind when he has transparent eyes. However, the suit does present a few problems of its own, problems which the script doesn't even try to address.
It also removes one of the reasons why earlier invisible men have all gotten increasingly insane as they try to cure themselves of their invisibility. This Griffin, moreso than any prior version, was a psychopath long before he cracked invisibility, and as such, there's really no need to make him even more of a violent lunatic. We also don't interact with him very much, and since he almost never speaks or wears clothing or anything like that, I doubt Oliver Jackson-Cohen had to be on set more than a few days.
This doesn't actually happen in the movie
Where I was the most disappointed was in the aforementioned lack of spectacle. It's there in spurts--and it looks great when it happens--but it's very subdued and surprisingly sparse. There is one absolutely incredible one-shot hallway sequence late in the movie, but everything else is brief, relying more on pregnant pauses and admittedly appropriate jump scares than on crazy special effects. This also has the side effect of highlighting just how long this movie is, with a runtime that exceeds two hours and actually feels even longer. This movie desperately needs to be about half an hour shorter.
I should also mention that the score by Benjamin Wallfisch is distractingly loud and over-the-top, a lot of blaring electric whines and dicordance that fits the mood of the movie but gets old well before the halfway mark of the film.
Don't get me wrong: this is a much better film than any other invisible man movie since the Universal classics of the 30's and 40's. It doesn't fall victim to the ludicrous excess of Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man or the muddled direction of John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man. This is competently directed, fabulously acted, and deeply unsettling. As long as you go in expecting that and not Claude Rains laughing maniacally as he dances around the room as nothing more than a dress shirt, you should get something out of it.
It's a tightly crafted, tense film about domestic abuse and mental distress, but I'm in no rush to watch it a second time.
-e. magill 2/28/2020
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