TL;DR – A film filled with amazing acting, and technical brilliance, however it was one of the most difficult films I have reviewed due to the issues of abuse that it explores.
Score – I am honestly not sure what to score to give this film
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene that I saw
Warning – Depicts scenes of abuse
A couple of years ago I stumbled upon Upgrade and thus discovered the wonderful work of Leigh Whannell. Since then, I have been waiting to catch his next film, so I was really excited to get the invite to see The Invisible Man. This was also a film that was going to reframe an old classic monster film and bring it into the modern age, which also intrigued me because that is my jam. However, while watching the film, I found myself feeling very conflicted with the subject material. All of this left me very unsettled in a way that I have spent the past two weeks wondering if the film approached it in an appropriate way or not.
So to set the scene, we open in on a mansion on the top of a cliff, waves crash against the rocks on a cold winters night as we zoom in on the isolated house. In the house, there is a couple asleep in a bed, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) and Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), but only one of them is actually asleep. We watch as Cecilia slowly slips out of the bed, at first you think it is just that she does not want to disturb Adrian, but soon you discover there is something more to it than that. In fact, she is leaving him in the middle of the night, the only time she could, which means that when every sound could be her undoing. The moment she grabs her hidden go bag you immediately understand why she is leaving. As she escapes over the high walls of the house everything starts to get better, that is until things start moving in rooms that should be empty.
You can not talk about this film and not acknowledge right up front how amazing Elizabeth Moss is here. She is our point of contact, our view into this would. Cecilia is a victim of abuse and it is very easy to fall into unhelpful stereotypes but Elizabeth gives a very nuanced performance. There are times when she is full of power and other times when she can’t walk out to the letterbox. Because she is the focus of every moment in the film, she is the power and the rage the film needs but also a window into how people can control other’s lives and the legacy that leaves. It is a performance that would be a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination, that is if the Academy was not apparently against strong female performances in horror films.
Another area where the film excels is in its technical merits. Given it is in the title, I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that there is an invisible person in many of the scenes in this film. This means that the actors have to interact with something that is not there. From the way it is framed, I think this was achieved through some really well-crafted wire work in tandem with a well trained stunt team, rather than someone in a green suit that they removed in post. If this was the case, I have to give a lot of credit to the stunt riggers because they gave everything weight as if there was someone there. This gives every motion a fluidity but also impact when punches get thrown.
We also see this in the way that the film uses tension to bring you to the edge of your seat. In that opening scene, as Cecilia is escaping Adrian, there was no music, no sound, bar the sound of the crashing of waves in the background and any sound that Cecilia made in her escape. This meant that every footstep had meaning because it could be the step that gives her away. It is also where the camera starts randomly panning into empty space and just lingering with menace. As the film goes on you see that they avoid tight closeup shots and instead favour the mid-range and further back. This is because they like adding as much dead space as possible into the frame, knowing that your mind fills in what could be lurking in the invisible. Where there is nothing, there is a threat, and the film weaponizes that for the viewer.
This is a film where you can’t help but be dragged into this world where every shadow has menace, every moment has the potential of thereat, and there is conflict at every turn. However, for me, I could not help but sit there and have this frustrating doubt in the back of my mind. However, to talk about what that doubt was we need to talk about the structure of the film and touch on its ending. Now while I will endeavour to be vague, please note that there will be [SPOILERS] in the next few paragraphs.
At the heart of The Invisible Man is a film about abuse and on that front I am glad that unlike some other films they are clear right from the start that Adrian is as abusive as Cecilia states he is. It also captures the absolute terror that Cecilia went through to escape his abuse and the very real fears that he would track her down and continue to hurt her. However, when you step back from the film and look at it as a whole you notice that this is a film where during the majority of the run time it depicts a man abusing a woman both psychologically and physically. This left me feeling very conflicted as I watched the film, which has only been escalated more with recent events that have shone a spotlight on the horrors of abuse here in Australia.
Why I have gone back and forth so much with this film comes down to its ending. Can a final act or even a final moment of a film reframe everything that has come before? Well yes, it can, I have seen it before in films like Rogue One and Red Sparrow, the latter of which has a similar emotional arc. The question I have found myself pondering over the last two weeks is does The Invisible Man succeed in this? And, well, to be honest, I still don’t have a definitive answer to that question. I think I am leaning towards yes, based mostly on the power of Elizabeth’s performance, but it is a tough call, and I have never felt as conflicted about a film before.
In the end, do we recommend The Invisible Man? I think it is clear at this point that my answer is that I’m not sure. I think this is going to be a film where people are going to fall on both sides of that divide and I would completely understand why people would come to that decision, on either side. At the very least, it is a film that shines a spotlight on abuse, how polite and pleasant abusers can be to everyone else, how controlling they can be over people’s lives, how difficult it is for people to leave situations of abuse, and I think that is something more people should realise. Also, just a tip, maybe don’t go to see this film at night if you are going home to an empty house, because all that dead space starts to become very menacing. If you did find this film interesting, I would also recommend Leigh’s other recent film Upgrade.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Invisible Man
Directed by – Leigh Whannell
Story by – Leigh Whannell
Screenplay by – Leigh Whannell
Based on –The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Music by – Benjamin Wallfisch
Cinematography by – Stefan Duscio
Edited by – Andy Canny
Production/Distribution Companies – Goalpost Pictures, Blumhouse Productions & Universal Pictures
Starring – Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Benedict Hardie, Amali Golden & Sam Smith
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 16; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R