Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Canada/Australia/USA, 2020. Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Goalpost Pictures, Nervous Tick Productions, Screen Australia, Government of Australia, The New South Wales Government. Screen story and screenplay by Leigh Whannell, based on the novel by H.G. Wells. Cinematography by Stefan Duscio. Produced by Jason Blum, Kylie Du Fresne. Music by Benjamin Wallfisch. Production Design by Alex Holmes, Diana Magnus. Costume Design by Adam Johansen, Damian Martin, Emily Seresin. Film Editing by Andy Canny. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2020.
First created on the page by H.G. Wells, then later adapted to film as part of the spate of monster movies that made Universal synonymous with horror films in the thirties, The Invisible Man has always stood as an interesting middle ground between horror villain and superhero. He’s got a special, almost magical ability as the result of–take your pick from the various versions of the story over the years–an accident, a potion or a mechanical breakthrough, but he is also, as all the characters in classic horror stories are, an investigation into psychology and morality: the special ability that superheroes use to help the world (sometimes to save it) is, in the Invisible Man’s hands, an opportunity to lose any sense of moral culpability, if he is not seen then he is not accountable. What better time than now, an era when obnoxious tales of human exceptionalism masquerade as friendly nerd culture have taken prominence at the box office, to bring him back to the big screen and let everyone know that the people they are treating like saviours are actually sociopaths? For it is not the Invisible Man who stars in this new film that bears his name, but his victim. Elisabeth Moss, doing riveting work, sneaks out of her controlling, abusive boyfriend’s house and barely makes it to her sister’s car before he almost catches her. The tension of the opening sequence is powerful and the film doesn’t let it go, for as soon as she is free, Moss realizes she cannot relax, even when she learns the news that her ex, a scientist who has made breakthroughs in optics technology that has made him a rich man, has committed suicide. Attempting to make good use of the money he has left her in his will, she soon begins to suspect that something very fishy is going on: first it’s objects mysteriously moving around in the house, then she finds his things hidden in strange places, and her telling people that she suspects that he is still around and taunting her only makes them think that she’s losing her sanity in a PTSD meltdown. When really bad, violent things start happening that she is blamed for, she realizes that she’s in for a fight for survival, unable to prove that the man faked his death and has figured out a way to be invisible before she is hauled off to the psychiatric ward as an accused murderer. The stakes rise with precise, perfectly timed levels of intensity thanks to writer/director Leigh Whannell’s airtight script and stylish direction: gorgeous, intense cinematography creates an ominous atmosphere that barely lets you breathe for two hours as we watch Moss fight to save herself, watching in horror as we see her become more and more alone with each movement of the plot. This version loops in trending concerns about female safety in the wake of #metoo movement but in both sincere and ironic ways; it’s both respectful and thematically appropriate that the bad guy have very little identity (and therefore glory), but the movie also asks us if maybe we don’t too often consider ourselves superheroes without actually having abilities? You might be the first person to share “I Believe Survivors” rhetoric generously on your Facebook wall, but are you sure that you would also believe a tale this ludicrous, logical as its explanation turns out to be? (Though for me there is one annoying logical flaw, I don’t care how fraught your relationship with your sister is, I find it hard to believe that someone would swallow that email without asking a few questions first). Exciting and very scary, this film doesn’t disappoint at any stage, resolving every element that it sets up by the time you reach the very satisfying ending.