It’s time for the obligatory early horror release of the year, something that’s come to be defined by Jordan Peele since his outstanding debut Get Out in 2015. Ever since (and in fairness due to consistently good work from other filmmakers in the genre), the release of a horror flick usually incites some degree of excitement and hype, rather than the groans that would have greeted them throughout the 2000s. Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man once again proves that we are living in a renaissance for scary movies, providing a killer star-turn from Elisabeth Moss, and featuring genuinely frightening sequences.
Cecilia (Moss) is a newly liberated victim of an abusive relationship at the hands of boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). When Adrian commits suicide and all seems resolved for Cecilia, strange occurrences convince her that she is still being stalked by him, but this time, as…. you guessed it… an invisible man. It’s immediately an ingenious update to the classic HG Wells novel of the same name, situating it firmly in the era of #MeToo and allowing it to tackle subjects like domestic violence, gaslighting and trauma through a series of scares.
Moss immediately grounds the audience in the shoes of Cecilia from the opening moments, and continues to be the film’s undeniable highlight. Without saying a word, she is able to communicate the extent of her fear for Adrian through the way she lies in bed with him in the opening scene. Moving his arm away from her as she begins her escape, her eyes stare with stunning intensity and every inch of her face strains with a dread that transfers immediately to the audience. The opening sequence is assured horror acting and filmmaking, something that Moss and Director Whannell continue to deliver as the film progresses, as Cecilia’s situation becomes even more dire. The camera effortlessly scans often intimate locations, and Whannell trusts the audience to have the patience to look at the details within a scene. A footprint on the carpet or a dent on a seat are sometimes the only clues he gives for the invisible man’s presence. In the first two acts, loud moments of action are kept to a minimum. I’m a little surprised Blumhouse didn’t panic and add more jump scares for fear that audiences would be bored, but I’m encouraged to see that horror filmmakers these days have much more faith in moviegoers. The result is a relentlessly suspenseful film, often painfully so. The nature of the premise and the patience of the filmmaking made each second a gold mine of apprehension and facilitated a slew of satisfying surprises whenever the action did start.
Admittedly, in an effort to raise the stakes, the third act is less effective than the first two. The earlier sequences had the advantage of freshness and a sense of the unknown, whereas often the climax spins its wheels through a set of structurally familiar scares. That is until a twist occurs, and without spoiling the entire film, that surprise is a little mixed in its success. On the one hand, the movie manages to be consistently shocking, but in the process, undermines some of its core thematic material, and leads to the film being a little too long in an effort to wrap up all the various plot threads. In all, it’s just over two hours, quite lengthy for a horror. It’s a shame, as an ending is vital in order to leave a lasting impression on the audience. I think that the film stands up enough to withstand a shaky conclusion, but it can’t help undermine it a little.
7.5/10: The Invisible Man is two thirds a great movie and one third a good one. With a star turn from Elisabeth Moss and assured direction from Leigh Whannell, it is a worthy addition to the latest horror renaissance.