The Invisible Man

 

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You’ll believe a man you cannot see…

 

Invisible Man, The

He's behind you! Elisabeth Moss

  

It’s a hard act to pull off. Even so, The Invisible Man manages to prop up the mechanisms that suspend our disbelief. As much a treatise on domestic abuse, control and trauma (as it is the science of invisibility), the film takes a fantastical idea and imbues it with credibility. The trick is to reinvent the premise as a character study in which, from the very start, we view the unfolding narrative through the eyes of Cecilia Kass (the always excellent Elisabeth Moss).

 

From the get-go, the film abandons the tropes of the horror genre by dispensing with the mandatory prologue and by jumping straight to the chase. It is 3:42 in the morning in an uber-modern house perched on the edge of a cliff. Immediately, visions of the state-of-the-art residence in Parasite spring to mind, but this edifice is more of a technological fortress. And as we see Cecilia slip from under the marital quilt and start adjusting the house to her means, we realise that she is trying to break out of, and not into, this glass-walled fortress. She drugs her husband, re-aligns the security cameras and disables the alarm. And so immediately we know that Cecilia is no dumb blonde. All this is cleverly set up, as are the following scenes in which it becomes increasingly clear to Cecilia’s sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) that Cecilia is completely bonkers.

 

The husband from whom she is running is a genius in his field, namely optical illusion. While one takes on board the invisibility cloak in Harry Potter, along with all the other hocus pocus, the writer-director Leigh Whannell here actually expects us to believe in the science. Of course, it’s still a stretch for the other characters in the film and Cecilia’s husband, Adrian Griffin (the English actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen), knows how to play on this. We’re still not sure whether or not Cecilia is half-baked, when, on a particularly chilly night, we see an emanation of disembodied breath behind her shoulder…

 

Leigh Whannell, who created the Saw franchise with his mate James Wan, tries hard to bring The Invisible Man in line with such recent horror classics as Raw, Get Out, Hereditary, Us and Midsommar. And like those films, the attention to detail is well calibrated and the performances more than up to snuff, along with a minimalist, keening electro-cello score and gorgeous drone shots of San Francisco. A case in point is a stand-out scene in a restaurant in which Whannell nails every aspect perfectly: the over-courteous waiter (Taylor), the desire for tap water, and then a sudden sisterly moment of serenity in the choppy waters of insanity.

 

If one has to quibble, there is an irritating bit of gravel in the narrative of Whannell’s running shoe: Cecilia’s apparent madness could easily have been disproved by checking the CCTV. Still, the film is so impeccably crafted and deftly plotted, that one can but sit back and enjoy the suspense. H.G. Wells would surely approve.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Nick Kici.

 

Dir Leigh Whannell, Pro Jason Blum and Kylie du Fresne, Screenplay Leigh Whannell, inspired by the novel by H.G. Wells, Ph Stefan Duscio, Pro Des Alex Holmes, Ed Andy Canny, Music Benjamin Wallfisch, Costumes Emily Seresin.

 

Blumhouse Productions/Nervous Tick/Goalpost Pictures-Universal Pictures.

124 mins. Australia/USA/UK/Canada. 2020. Rel: 28 February 2020. Cert. 15.