Written and Directed by Leigh Whannell
As a “critic”, quotations used intentionally, I take no pleasure in offering a contrarian opinion on anything. Like what you like. And as a movie lover, no quotations required, I wish I could fall head over heels for everything I ever see. But alas, that is not the nature of the business. That is not how things work, and often I believe the bad movies put the good ones into perspective, and the mediocre movies help test my understanding of my own tastes. They can challenge me to see elements I may have missed before, elements I didn’t take into account in previous films. I’m always growing, and I love that about watching and writing about movies. So what does this all mean for The Invisible Man? Well, it’s complicated. Go figure.
Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is in a tentative relationship with Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who has made fortunes leading the field in optics tech. One night, she makes a run for it, escaping this controlling relationship, taking refuge with a cop friend (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter (Storm Reid) with the help of her sister (Harriet Dyer). In hiding, Cecilia learns that Adrian is dead from suicide, and his reward for her is a sum of $5 million, administered by Adrian’s brother Tom (Michael Dorman). But after a while, she begins to sense his looming presence once more, tormenting her, forcing her to dwindle into a state of psychosis. Or at least that’s what it looks like from the outside world. For Cecilia, she believes Adrian has somehow found a way to become “invisible” and torment her.
This is not a negative review. I repeat, this is not a negative review. In fact, this film is exceedingly effective in not only its execution, but also in its ability to turn the traditional tale on its head and show it from the victim’s perspective, which adds incredible depth and relevancy to the story in 2020. The stalking and gaslighting elements are handled extremely well, thanks to both the direction of Leigh Whannell and the performance of Elisabeth Moss. Moss’ descent into madness, or so it appears to the outside world, is unbelievably convincing, which makes it all the more terrifying when we the viewer are aware of the very real Invisible Man who is essentially controlling this behavior. Paired with Moss’ performance, Whannell handles the camera with ease, creating very tangible tension around every corner. This is a truly terrifying film experience.
So why all the mention of negativity and contrarianism? Well, I haven’t even been able to convince myself of these complaints, so take it with a grain of salt, but so much of the script, the basic plotting of the film, either doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, or is so wooden and cliched that it really took me out of the movie. To be honest, until the twist (which is a good twist) I spent the length of the movie wondering why the hell it was all happening, and why these characters were delivering such scripted lines, in such delivered ways. Those elements still remain, and the third act and denouement, which cocooned me into a tension ball for its entirety, redeem a lot of what worried me initially, so perhaps I would enjoy the experience more on rewatch, but ultimately I found the film to fall short of perfection. With more nuance and attention to these details, I’d be here selling you the greatest film of 2020.
Instead, I’m writing this review imploring you to go see this movie, which will make a boatload of money regardless of my words, and will easily occupy a pop culture moment. If I’m wrong on those predictions, I would be shocked. This film has so much more to offer than just the minor quibbles I found with it, which held me back from loving it. I wish I could have let go of my struggles to be more fully enveloped in its wiles, like so many of my colleagues and audience-goers will most assuredly be. I’m going to be wrong about this movie. And if I see it again later this year, I wouldn’t be shocked to see my opinion of it increase. But sometimes we just have those movies we struggle with. And I really struggled with where I would land on this film. So let me summarize as best I can. The Invisible Man is incredibly effective horror with a lens into real world implications. If you like horror, see it now. Just try not to be deterred by the details that irked me, for as we all know, the devil is in the details.