THE INVISIBLE MAN Review
Horror has a long history of capturing the current horrors and issues of the society it is created in. George Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead commented on the mindlessness of capitalism; both versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers paralleled the Red Scare of communists ‘invading’ America during the Cold War; and of course, Jordan Peele’s Get Out which presented the threat of appropriation of black culture, and the silencing of African-Americans. Difficult subject matter makes for good horror.
The Invisible Man, based on the classic horror character, focuses on Elizabeth Moss’ Cecilia who believes she is being stalked by her dead, abusive husband that has discovered the ability to turn invisible. A simple premise, loaded with discourse around gaslighting, abuse, trauma and power dynamics. Not bad for a reboot of a failed shared universe.
Australian director Leigh Whannel has run the gauntlet of horror; gore and body horror with the Saw franchise he co-created with James Wan; haunted houses with Insidious, another Wan co-creation, and now a psychological thriller that is filled with dread and paranoia. Whannel’s directing is exceptionally infuriating with how well he is able to illicit terror from the most basic of environments. Developing the film with his lead Elizabeth Moss gives the film the credibility to tap into a domestic violence story, by opening up a different perspective a man may not consider and using her experience from projects like The Handmaids Tale. One sequence sees Cecilia try to make it to the letterbox before recoiling at a jogger that triggers memories of her husband pursuing her. Such a simple, everyday procedure is made traumatic as a result of her experience.
Moss elevates the film, conveying not a vulnerability, but an internal brokenness. Initially she has this dead-eyed expression as she recovers from her escape in the film’s prologue. As she becomes more and more manic, she shifts so her body is tensed up, almost cat-like, ready to pounce at her unseen attacker. Compare her rigid walk towards the letterbox and then in the final act where she turns the tables on the Invisible Man and you notice her subtle performance shift.
Much like other great horror films, there is more to the story than a woman being hunted by an imperceptible foe. The MeToo approach is heartbreaking to watch because of how often a woman’s story is discredited in reality. Cecilia’s world is turned against her, isolating her more than when her husband dictated her life, all because people wouldn’t believe her. The she said/he said approach breaks the screenwriting rule of show don’t tell and was initially frustrating but by the thought-provoking ending it recontextualises the narrative. It was always her word against his, but the film never told you who to believe. It should be painfully obvious that she has no ulterior motive for money, as one character accuses.
Whannel’s modern approach for the Invisible Man discards the classic trench coat, glasses and bandages. Instead, he lets the camera linger on empty spaces and does what all good horror does which is let your mind fill in the blanks. Benjamin Wallfisch’s score which combines Bernard Herman’s pulsing, string heavy Psycho with the modern Hans Zimmer-esque synth pairs with these shots to match the interplay between Cecilia and the Invisible Man. The audience become as paranoid as Cecilia in trying to find the unfindable. The only clues Whannel leaves is in the subtle and chilling sound editing. The Sound Editors and Mixers are the underrated star of the show with tiny clicks and whirs building tension under entirely silent pans across blank spaces. One scene sees a knife resting on a counter before falling off and never making a sound, except for the audience’s shuddering exhale.
The Invisible Man blends a classic horror story into a modern context with slick cinematography, an empathetic lead, nuanced sound editing and timely themes and discussion with the result being a pulse-pounding experience. All from a bad Tom Cruise-Mummy movie.