The Invisible Man

Leigh Wannell's The Invisible Man is the best Invisible Man movie ever made, hands down, bar none. I don't say that lightly. Past versions of this idea have focused on the person who's invisible – how they got that way, what they do to reverse it, etc. This one finds a completely fresh approach to the concept, one rooted in subject matter that is highly relevant in today's world. Even though it's not the first iteration of the Invisible Man idea, the film feels like no other.

Suspense starts as soon as the Universal Pictures logo is over, thanks to a dazzling opening sequence. Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), having drugged her abusive boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), attempts to escape in the middle of the night. She succeeds, barely, and is put up by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) in the home of her cop friend James (Aldis Hodge). The traumatized Cecilia is afraid to leave the house, due to fear that Adrian is looking for her. Then comes word that the distraught Adrian has committed suicide.

Cecilia is not sure if that's true. She senses his presence, and sees strange things happening. Because Adrian was a scientist specializing in optics, she suspects he's faked his own death and is using invisibility technology to stalk her. She's not wrong. No one believes her, though, meaning she eventually has to take matters into her own hands.

I have a feeling that Wannell (Upgrade) might have studied Ridley Scott's Alien when conceiving this movie. It has the same kind of strategic, slow-burn pacing. For the longest time, you think something major is about to happen, and it doesn't. That serves to ratchet up the tension to almost unbearable levels. Then, as with the chest-burster, something major finally does happen abruptly, and from that shocking moment onward, The Invisible Man takes you on a non-stop roller coaster ride. At three or four points during the film, I either jumped or gasped at the surprise developments.

Wannell has clever ways of staging these sections. Frequently in horror movies, you can tell when a shock beat is coming because they're usually staged the same way. The Invisible Man avoids anything too common to the genre. Camera angles, editing choices, and blocking of the actors are used to catch the audience off guard. Consequently, you're on edge from start to finish, constantly looking at various areas of the screen, anxiously wondering where the next thing to blindside you is going to come from.

If that was all The Invisible Man had to offer, it would be enough to qualify as decent entertainment. There's more, though. This is a movie about abuse. Even in his “death,” Adrian continues to abuse Cecilia. He uses his invisibility to stalk her, to alienate her from family and friends, to make her wonder if she's crazy. Adrian gaslights her with his actions. The sick pattern he's been carrying out continues, until Cecilia realizes that she's going to have to escape again. Serious subject matter, for sure, yet the story never trivializes it. Instead, the horror genre is used to realistically depict the cycle of behaviors that narcissistic men rely on to control or intimidate women. That quality provides the film with true stakes for its main character.

Elisabeth Moss is outstanding as Cecilia, conveying every ounce of fear, anxiety, self-doubt, and terror that the character is made to feel. The actress also makes Cecilia's reclamation of power something to cheer for. Her brilliant performance ranks alongside Lupita Nyongo's in Us, Florence Pugh's in Midsommar, and Toni Collette's in Hereditary.

A particular frustration these days is that half the movies that come out are based on some pre-existing property. They're remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels, adaptations, etc. The Invisible Man may fall under that classification, but it's smart enough to forge its own path with a familiar concept. Taking a classic idea and marrying it to a substantive issue proves to be a formula for overwhelming success in this case. The film is super-scary, both visually and psychologically.

Brace yourself, because there may not be a more intense cinematic experience this year.

out of four

The Invisible Man is rated R for some strong bloody violence, and language. The running time is 2 hours and 4 minutes.