Why did it take so long for Universal to produce a great horror film ever since the Mummy (not the Tom Cruise one, the one directed by Stephen Sommers)? Out of all the Universal classic monsters such as Frankenstein or Dracula, the Invisible Man is the most insane yet most humanistic of them all.
The film follows Cecilia Kass (played by Elizabeth Moss) escaping her abusive relationship with a rich and intelligent scientist by having her get assistance from her sister (Harriet Dyer), their close friend Detective James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). The film follows it up by explaining the unstable ex Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) committing suicide, leaving five million dollars for Cecilia. After dealing with some odd disturbances and ones that threaten those that are close to her, she suspects the whole scheme was a hoax and seeks to prove that the man she was involved with is hunting her in a form no-one can see.
The invisibility aspect is astounding and spreads the theme of how it can elevate one’s terrible instincts. One may know what is there, yet they cannot see what is actually there. Cecilia being tormented by a sociopathic individual with said ability pushes her boundaries and mentality to a breaking point several times. The director should be applauded for applying this factor.
Speaking of that, director Leigh Whannell struck notes with the film industry when working alongside James Wan to create the Saw and Insidious franchises, and Dead Silence. Wan blossomed up the totem pole with the first two Conjuring films, Furious 7 and Aquaman while Whannell played cat and mouse with smaller budget films. His directorial debut of Insidious 3 was a decent film, but he escalated his game further with the release of Upgrade, a take on the action body horror genre with some innovative dark humor and action sequences. The Invisible Man, his third feature, contains some traits from his other works but offers a more focused story thanks to some smart effects and a committed foundation with the cinematography.
Cecilia escalates in her dealings with madness, thanks to an edgy framework with the camera following her movements around a corner or in a hallway. She believes Adrian is in this corner or that one, with the camera affirming that she is indeed not alone in any environment she stands in. It sets the vulnerability factor to such a potent effect, knowing that she is being watched by a powerful, aggressive husband and that she cannot contain her own instincts due to his manipulation. The film doesn’t attempt to sabotage its message with narcissistic flashbacks or montages, and allows each scene to flow crisply with a barrage of tension.
The film also does not either fall into the trope as many other horror films, which are the unnecessary jump scares and random spikes in the sound to ensure the audience remembers it’s a horror film. It plays with its moments smartly, allowing our protagonist to get a complete feel for the environment and letting the tension rise sufficiently that we hear our own hearts beating. When executed, it ensures everyone is gripping their seats thoroughly to understand how it plays out. Think about the film A Quiet Place, which terrorized us due to a lack of sound and an inescapable death sentence by unknown creatures if one noise was made.
Moss’s performance is outstanding, one who remains committed to expressing her character’s limpidity and sanity through her point of view. Conveying the message with no one believing her makes it all more realistic and selling it pushes her performance to be commended by others. The opening sequence sets the tone immediately, having her character take significant precautions to escape her husband’s household by not tipping him off when she’s in action. If there’s one way to make a horror film nowadays, it all starts with a suspenseful opening.
The film does tank a bit in the frightening tone aspect when it reaches the third act. No spoilers, but Cecilia’s commitment to pursue the unseen predator starts to become a bit more like a chase sequence than a tense set-piece. Where the 124-minute-feature shines is by letting the cinematography do the work, along with Moss’s ability to amplify each scene with a fearful expression. It serves to show a domestic violence with distortions all around it whether it is the frying bacon on the stove or bed sheets being pulled off of our protagonist when she attempts to sleep.
Whannell creates a story here that shouldn’t be overlooked in the slightest, as it details some subjects are pushed to a constriction of freedom with the individuals they associate with. He pushes away overbearing blockbuster effects and engages with a monster form in a new manner, despite this being a reboot to the original 1933 film. Then again, this is a tight and entertaining romp of a film that will pulsate the body effectively. You are aware of what is there even if it cannot be seen, and your insides will cramp up when all is revealed.