The Invisible Man (2020) – Film Review
Director: Leigh Whannell
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer
by @Roger Crow
One of my favourite shows as a kid starred David McCallum as Daniel Westin, a scientist who was turned transparent and spent a few episodes fighting bad guys. The Invisible Man was rebooted as short-lived misfire The Gemini Man (starring Ben Murphy), and then in 2000 we had Hollow Man. Paul Verhoeven’s big screen take boasted stunning visual effects as the anti hero was turned invisible, but had a nasty streak as a transparent Kevin Bacon’s villain clashed with Elisabeth Shue.
Aptly very few people saw the sequel, and when I discovered horror studio Blumhouse were working on a new version of The Invisible Man, I hoped they would get it right.
We open at a lavish beachfront apartment in Stinson Beach (one of my favourite areas of San Francisco, thanks for asking). Elisabeth Moss’s terrified Cecilia escapes from her partner. We don’t need any dialogue or explanation. Her actions speak volumes. She’s in an abusive relationship and needs to be as far away from him as possible.
Writer/director Leigh Whannell does an expert job of ramping up the tension, so when a simple action sets alarm bells ringing, you’re willing her to get out of there ASAP.
Cecilia takes refuge with her sister, and is put up by a family, whose cop dad is ideal to have around in case you know who comes looking for her. And naturally he does. Or does he? The abusive ex has apparently killed himself, and she’s due to inherit a fortune. But his demise seems unlikely.
The ambiguity here is beautifully handled as Moss gives one of those stunning performances worthy of much acclaim. She goes from terrified person on the run to a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
As bad things inevitably start happening, our heroine pleads her innocence, allegedly alienates her loved ones, and fights for her life.
“Milking the tension”
The beauty of The Invisible Man 2020 is the gaslight theme, which is rocket fuel for a film like this. Yes, we’ve seen the subject turned into a farce in Coronation Street over the past few months (a storyline which has dragged on far longer than necessary). But in a two-hour sci-fi thriller, it works wonders.
There are many stunning moments, including one masterful scene in a restaurant, and a brilliant finale. But while old invisibility/thriller tropes are exploited (crawling around attics, throwing stuff at the diaphanous attacker), the genius of this is playing down the effects for 90 per cent of the time and milking the tension for all it’s worth.
After all, Jaws worked brilliantly without seeing the shark, so rather aptly not seeing the eponymous antagonist, or revealing how he became so, works in its favour. His threat is omnipresent; more of an evil force playing with the heroine’s mind than a physical character. And while protagonists battling an invisible enemy is one of the oldest visual tricks in the book, here cast and crew sell it brilliantly. Those invisible attacks hurt.
“Gripping, satisfying thriller”
Bafta don’t usually hand out awards to fantasy thrillers, but while Ms Moss deserves a nod for Best Actress, this also deserves a mention for Best Film. Maybe if Whannell had addressed the gaslighting issue head on, Bafta would shower it with praise, but TIM does what many great thrillers do and addresses the issue in a different way.
So, while film and TV makers have spent years trying to find a way of making a well-worn fantasy idea work, this does a brilliant job of making a gripping, satisfying thriller which lingers long in the mind after the closing credits roll.
Another master stroke is dialling down the soundtrack, so instead of invasive chords, strings and percussion telling us what to think at all times, we just have silence for many early key scenes. When the score does arrive, it’s a great piece of work from Brit Benjamin Wallfisch.
For a film-maker who cut their teeth on the Insidious and Saw movies, Leigh Whannell has finally delivered one of those knockout slices of escapism that should be discussed by genre fans and mainstream movie lovers for years to come.
For my money, it’s the best thriller of the year.