Psychological thriller The Invisible Man hits all the right notes, delivering jump scares, atmospheric chills and incredible tension thanks to a brilliant performance by Elisabeth Moss. Put any doubts about this film aside and buckle up for a wild cinematic ride that goes beyond the “is she or isn’t she crazy?” premise.
Directed by Leigh Whannell, writer of Saw and Insidious, The Invisible Man features Moss as Cecilia, a woman who has suffered enormous psychological abuse at the hands of her partner, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). After escaping from their home in the middle of the night, Cecilia learns Adrian has taken his own life, leaving the massive fortune he amassed as a tech entrepreneur to her. A series of unsettling incidents leaves Cecilia to believe his death was an elaborate hoax in order for him to continue to torment her. Now in a battle to prove her experiences are real, Cecilia must also fight for her life against a tormentor only she can see.
The Invisible Man belongs to a genre of films that dominated in the 1990s – the female-led psychological thriller. There’s lots of comparisons to be made with Sleeping With The Enemy and The Net (which would all make a great triple bill) with The Invisible Man offering a new look at a 123-year-old story.
While inspired by H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel of the same name and James Whale’s 1933 film, this modern update isn’t focused on the unseen man, but on the physical and psychological suffering his unseen presence causes.
There’s a lot to unpack in the story that underscores the “Believe All Women” ideal and much more to it than a tale about domestic violence. This is a world where “crazy” women are not believed, shunned into silence and remanded to psych wards.
The crux and ultimate horror of the story lies in the narcissistic toxic ex who is hell-bent on torturing the one person in his life he can’t control, Cecilia.
The movie could easily veer into over-the-top chaos or cheesy clichés (like other recent 1990s-ish thrillers like The Intruder) but Moss’ emotional, and at times, gut-wrenching performance as an abuse victim that no one believes holds viewers in its grip. Whannell, who also penned the screenplay, forgoes some of the explanations and backstory on Adrian to instead focus on Cecilia’s experience.
Structured with close-ups of Moss’ fearful face filling the screen, Whannell points his camera at her and makes the audience complicit in her abuse. At times she seems to plead with us, Why aren’t you doing anything? Whannell punctuates her fearful stares with long shots of empty spaces which, thanks to the heightened tension, become ominous. Never before has the empty corner or a room or vacant doorway held so much terror.
Eventually, the film becomes more of a traditional action-thriller as Moss’ torturer makes his presence more known, but, even as the psychological terror gets dialed down, The Invisible Man remains highly engaging and entertaining, and, best of all, re-watchable.