Some films hit my personal Must See list based solely on the pedigree of who’s involved in the project. The new Christopher Nolan film, Tenet? You had me at Christopher Nolan. Doesn’t matter what it’s about or who’s in it. The new film from the director of The Dark Knight and Inception has my total attention. His reputation alone will get me into an IMAX seat when theaters re-open.
Leigh Wannell’s adaptation of The Invisible Man might not rise to Nolan-like levels of anticipation. But, a new film from the writer of Saw and the writer/director of the 2018 sci-fi thriller, Upgrade, was definitely on my personal radar for 2020. Throw in Elisabeth Moss, one of the most interesting performers in film and television, and I had high expectations for this release.
The Invisible Man does not disappoint. It was the last film I saw in theaters before COVID, and it sent me off to quarantine on a cinematic high note. The Invisible Man is not an obvious adaptation. It’s not about one man’s quest to unlock the science of a super-power. It bears no real resemblance to the 1933 film starring Claude Rains. It has more in common with the Kevin Bacon film Hollow Man (2000).
Wannell gives the source material a 21st century spin. Elisabeth Moss plays Cecilia Kass, a woman trapped in an abusive relationship with a wealthy tech developer. She lives in a beautiful isolated mansion made of glass and chrome where her “boyfriend” controls her every decision. In the opening scene, we see Cecilia flee her gilded cage by executing a carefully constructed escape plan. It’s an intense, dialogue-free piece of suspense that sets the tone for the rest of film.
As Cecilia warily lives on her own, she’s certain she’s being followed. She’s convinced her abusive boyfriend is stalking her. Her tales of his tech experiments and his efforts to become invisible sound insane to her friends. Is Cecelia a victim of domestic violence? Or is she mentally ill? Thankfully the film resolves these questions by the end of its first act. (If you want to see that kind of guessing game expertly stretched out to a full 100 minutes, check out Steven Soderbergh’s 2018 film Unsane. It’s currently available on Amazon Prime.)
The Invisible Man is a masterpiece of suspense. Less is definitely more when invisibility is the premise of the film. Wannell’s camera lingers on empty spaces, waiting for a threat to emerge. Is there someone there? he seems to be whispering to the audience. Does it look like there’s a shape standing behind the curtains? Every scene drips with dread.
Elisabeth Moss delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as a strong woman who has been systematically dismantled by a human predator. She has to dig deep inside herself to find the resolve to be free of his control and abuse. It’s The Invisible Man by way of the MeToo movement. The thematic layers to Wannell’s screenplay give audiences a horror film with unusual depth.
Leigh Wannell is the real deal. He’s a sharp writer and a savvy director. He knows how to frame a shot for maximum effect. Every camera movement or lack of movement is organic to the story being told. He’s not style over substance. He’s both. If you like a good thriller, don’t miss The Invisible Man. You won’t be disappointed.
The Invisible Man is currently available on Blu-ray, DVD, and all digital platforms.