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You are physically close to him. He’s in that urn over there.

Movie

The Invisible Man
(2020)

 

Incredible how you can see right through him. As a fan of Leigh Whannell’s sophomore film Upgrade, I was willing to give this latest telling of The Invisible Man a chance, even though I was doubtful of its repurposing, seemingly falling prey to the kind of unrefined stalker antics that largely did for Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man, the last major studio take on the premise (okay, excepting The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). And while it’s certainly the case that Whannell does rather limit his canvas in that regard, he has nevertheless made an undeniably effective stalker picture, one that features a number of quite satisfying plot turns.

I don’t particularly think touting The Invisible Man as a progressive women’s picture does it enormous favours, though, as many critics jumping on the bandwagon of approved perceptions (or should that be optics?) have. It is, after all, a very traditional movie at heart, one that, with a few tweaks, could easily have landed in the ’80s heroine-in-peril cycle, a cycle critics ritually slaughtered out of hand. The difference here, ostensibly, is that Whannell has lent the picture a subtext, with the aid of star Elisabeth Moss. Indeed, Moss might be labelled the current incarnation of the scream queen, only for the #MeToo generation; she’s made her acting mark by being repeatedly tortured, battered and abused by menfolk (albeit, just psychologically in Mad Men).

The picture’s subtext is consequently one of no one believing the battered wife when she claims her charming husband is mistreating her. Too frightened to speak when he was alive, now he’s “dead”, it becomes quite clear that she is making up her claims. She has no proof. It’s an outlandish, unbelievable suggestion. She’s crazy, needs locking up. Yeah… put it like that, it’s about as subtle as in invisible man slashing the heroine’s sister’s throat in front of her in a crowded restaurant and leaving the bloody knife in her hand.

But, per the opening paragraph, undeniably effective. What the picture misses out on is any nuance, aside from the subtleties of Moss’ commendable performance. The Invisible Man is elegantly shot by Whannell’s cinematographer Stefan Duscio, making great use of the widescreen format with atmospherically empty-but-are-they spaces provoking a powerfully tense dread.

The dramatic shifts and rug-pulls, however, are all muscle car, with twists even Thomas Harris would blanche at. The invisible villain has finally been killed? No, he has not; it was his brother all along (it wasn’t). En route, Moss’ Cecilia Kass is accused of hitting pal Aldis Hodge’s daughter (Storm Reid)! Cecilia discovers she’s pregnant! The fortune that was hers is snatched away, if she’s pronounced loony! The finale is particularly deft, with a wired Cecilia slipping into a rapprochement with her ex (found tied up in the basement by his brother) but using the opportunity to become the Invisible Woman and get away with him slitting his own throat.

If Moss carries the picture with aplomb and gives it a veneer of substance, everyone else is left dangling with the kinds of unvarnished types you’d expect from a standard horror. Michael Dorman is the younger brother-in-law – apparently, and slightly unlikely but what the hell, as ultra-capable as his psycho brother, since he goes on a murderous spree in the mental hospital and then beats up Hodge (Edit: it’s been pointed out to me that it’s probably Adrian in the hospital, since the malfunctioning suit is replaced by a working one come the home invasion, but either way, it illustrates how opportunistic the plotting has become by this point, if we’re supposed to swallow that Adrian decides to go home and hide in the basement on the assumption that little brother would screw up and SWAT would pay him a call). Oliver Jackson-Cohen is barely in it as Cecilia’s not-dead-ex Adrian, and entirely stock forgettable, which only underlines the movie’s B-credentials. He’s Michael Myers when the legacy of using that title surely deserved a whiff of Claude Rains.

The twist on invisibility – an optics suit: think Bond’s car in Die Another Day but niftier in design and not naff – is an effective and appealing one, and I liked the Predator rattle sound effect used when it becomes visible (at least, it sounded like that to me). The reliance on practical work is laudable (aside from the suit effects, there’s little obvious CGI), and Whannell proves himself a dab hand at eking the suspense from a scene. If this is the way forward, it bodes well for Universal’s horror staples. As does the news than Karyn Kusama will be directing their Dracula update. It also bodes well for Whannell’s Escape from New York (providing you think anyone should be remaking Escape from New York in the first place).

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