With the new sci-fi/action/thriller, The Invisible Man, director Leigh Whannell has created a feminist re-imagining of the classic H.G. Welles novel. The titular character isn’t a mad scientist with a god complex, but something much more zeitgeisty: a sociopathic, narcissistic, one-percenter. And unlike previous adaptations, he’s not even the main focus of the story.
The Invisible Man features Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia, a resourceful and intelligent architect. Cecilia is trapped in a threatening relationship with the hyper-controlling and abusive Adrian, who happens to be a world leader within the field of optics. Whannell, who also wrote the script, wastes no time ramping up the tension with a riveting opening sequence that shows Cecilia attempting a 3AM escape from Adrian’s fortress-like mansion. After a couple of weeks hiding out at a friend’s home, still traumatized and never venturing any further than the mailbox, she receives the news that Adrian has committed suicide, bequeathing her a sizeable chunk of his fortune. Not long after claiming her inheritance from Adrian’s surviving brother, Cecilia falls prey to a malevolent poltergeist that privately torments her, forcing her to grapple with the possibility Adrian is still alive and invisibly stalking her. Those closest to Cecilia are incredulous and begin to question her sanity, creating an allegorical #MeToo moment – a woman complains about a man and nobody believes her.
With a budget of only seven million dollars, it’s amazing how much movie Whannell manages to bring to the big screen. Expansive set pieces featuring long takes and impressively choreographed action sequences belie its relatively small budget. Cecilia’s initial encounters with her invisible man are both imaginative and anxiety provoking, even if the invisibility effects are something we’ve seen countless times before; their familiarity hardly matters because they’re in service of a terrific story. One scene in particular is literally gasp inducing. I won’t dare spoil the surprise. Suffice to say, Cecilia’s face reflects our own feelings of shock back on to us. It’s a startling turn of events in a film loaded with twists and turns and powered by a plot-heavy narrative that keeps moving, rarely giving us a chance to catch our breath.
What makes the film resonant on an emotional level is the stellar performance by Elisabeth Moss, one of the most expressive and versatile actors working today. Ultimately, The Invisible Man is the story of a woman’s struggle against extreme male toxicity, so there’s plenty of vicarious pleasure to be had as Cecilia gradually transforms from hapless, PTSD-stricken victim to a figure of empowerment capable of fighting back.
The camerawork also deserves special praise. Under Whannell’s direction, the camera is virtually a separate character, often turning away from Cecilia as if it’s seeing something she can’t, directing our gaze in a way that draws us into her nightmare. It doesn’t take long before we begin scrutinizing every empty hall, doorway and chair. The end result is an extremely effective and nail-biting transference of Cecilia’s paranoia, making the psychological effects of her abuse disturbingly palpable. The Invisible Man – even the title is suggestive of the lingering psychological trauma that remains long after the abuser is no longer seen.
For KSQD’s Film Gang, this is Paul Kanieski