Well directed and acted thriller is hampered by a thoughtless script
Writer/Director Leigh (SAW, INSIDIOUS) Whannell’s THE INVISIBLE MAN is a frustrating film. Anchored by a truly fantastic lead performance by Elizabeth Moss, the movie looks great, moves with purpose, has a deft sound design and innovative and refreshingly minimalist special effects. The fact that there are so many great things going for it, makes its flaws all the more glaring, chief among them a shockingly thoughtless script that threatens to derail the entire otherwise opulent affair.
Moss stars as Cecilia, a woman whose millionaire inventor husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has apparently kept her in a state of emotional and physical agony. Pushed too far by his abuse, she escapes, in a beautifully orchestrated opening sequence that relies on atmosphere, suspense, sound and of course, Moss’s ever-expressive face. With the aid of her sister, she seeks shelter with her friend James (Aldis Hodge), a single dad who lives alone with his teenage daughter. Living in terror that her maniacal ex will find her and finish her off, she spends her days a recluse until she finds out that the brute has apparently committed suicide and left her his fortune. As she slowly comes out of her shell, strange things begin to happen and soon, Cecilia comes to the conclusion that Adrian is not dead, but has instead perfected the science of invisibility and is now dedicated to making her life an even more special sort of Hell, one in which no one will ever truly believe her accusations of abuse.
And that is what’s really wrong at the heart of this socially aware rethink of H.G. Wells’ oft-visited source novel. The film asks us to suffer along brutally with a woman who is tormented, beaten and driven to near-lunacy, while her friends and family refuse to acknowledge or even investigate her claims that her supposedly dead husband has become invisible and is secretly stalking her. That those same family and friends are cops and lawyers and they still do nothing, is one thing. That the sociopathic spouse was/is actually a world-renowned, eccentric young inventor experimenting in the field of “optics” is another. Just a casual glance at his life’s work (let alone his still-standing in-home lab!) would tip even the stupidest SOB off that yeah, this dude was kind of working on becoming, y’know, an invisible man. And then there’s the fact that so much of the mayhem happens in clear view of surveillance cameras and yet…no one bothers to check them. And then there’s that cop-out ending that weirdly makes Moss the monster. Or worse, a potential super-hero ready to be franchised. Sheesh.
When a horror film deals in the realms of the abstract and psychologically ambiguous, a filmmaker – and the audience – can shrug-off logic. You can do whatever you like. Make it up as you go along. But when your movie takes place in the real world and obeys natural law, it needs to cover its ass and ensure that it makes perfect sense or else the character’s plights lose credibility. And when we’re dealing with the subject of domestic abuse, credibility is something you need. There’s a very serious message here, and it needs to be delivered in a far more complex, sophisticated way that matches Moss’s fearless work. She’s real. Her co-stars are devices.
Still, you can’t dismiss THE INVISIBLE MAN. The good stuff is really good and Whannell gets extra points for trying something new as opposed to replicating and recycling the old. And of course, that dynamite Moss performance is truly a sight to see.