“The Invisible Man” Movie Review

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     As the Marvel Cinematic Universe was taking cineplexes by storm, every rival studio in Hollywood began looking back into their various intellectual properties for characters who could perhaps occupy the next successful shared universe.  The obvious example of this was DC’s foray into creating a world where their beloved comic book characters, such as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, would exist together within the same storyline.  An endeavor that culminated in 2017’s “Justice League”, but ultimately failed to excite audiences in a way that the MCU had already been doing since 2008’s “Ironman” began an arc that would encompass over twenty feature films.

     But DC wasn’t the only studio looking to reinvent their age old properties into the latest cinematic behemoth.  Armed with an array of notable monster characters whose popularity dates back to the 1930s, Universal unleashed the first in what they envisioned to be a series of films based on what we commonly refer to as the Universal Monsters.  And the thought of Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and others occupying an ongoing storyline brought forth what Universal dubbed the Dark Universe, kicking off with 2017’s reboot of “The Mummy”.  The critically panned Tom Cruise film failed to excite audiences, ending its run with a paltry $80 million in North America and simultaneously shelving other projects in the pipeline.

     Writer/director Leigh Whannell’s “The Invisible Man” doesn’t begin with the same crafty intro announcing its inclusion in the Dark Universe the way “The Mummy” did (perhaps Universal decided to not be so presumptuous this time), but the opening sequence says enough about the film and the title character in a way that creates an instant sense of terror and dread more akin to a great horror film than the kind of all audiences fodder a lot of these projects are designed to be.  Whannell begins the proceedings with a jolting scenario so incredibly powerful, that you never fully recover from the uncomfortable feelings it conveys.  

     Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) awakens late at night and begins to undertake a plan obviously long in the making.  She seeks to escape the clutches of her abusive husband, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), having drugged him in order to leave undetected.  It’s the lengths she goes through with every detail and nuance of her exit carefully and meticulously planned where we understand the sense of urgency.  Under no circumstances can she be caught, as the fear of her captor is too great and the violence she would be subjected to is too much for her to endure.  Now mind you, Whannell doesn’t show us flashbacks of this abuse during or prior to this sequence.  Instead, the reasons Cecilia has for taking such precautions are left to the imagination.  All the while, her plan doesn’t go exactly as she drew it up, leaving the audience on edge as she negotiates the dark hallways of the home in what appears to be a perilous and never-ending journey to the front door and ultimately freedom.

     “The Invisible Man” plays as a hybrid between both horror and thriller tropes, but shares most of its DNA with films whose primary elements were more Hitchcockian in nature, such as “Basic Instinct”, “Dressed to Kill”, or “Body Double”, in the way its characters interact and how the emotion is pushed through the use of Benjamin Wallfisch’s sweeping and powerful musical score. This is, after all, about a relationship gone bad rather than your standard slasher film, although there are scenes which invoke that type of terror as well, particularly when characters look into open spaces (rooms, hallways, streets) shrouded in darkness, knowing someone is there but just out of sight.  Of course, in this case we have to look at the enemy being unseen in a more literal sense.

     Cecilia takes refuge with a childhood friend and his teenage daughter, James (Aldis Hodge) and Sydney (Storm Reid), with the assistance of her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), in the immediate aftermath of her escape.  Soon after, she learns Adrian has committed suicide and has left a large part of his fortune to her.  But the emotional scars are evident in every scene as Cecilia remains traumatized from her experience in way she may never fully recover.  And it isn’t long before things within James’ household begin to take a turn for the strange and unexplainable.

     The middle act focuses on a series of incidents within the home that ultimately lead to Cecilia, and everyone around her, beginning to question her sanity.  Whannell stages many of these in much the same way you would see in films like “Paranormal Activity” as blankets mysteriously pull off of people in the middle of the night, stove burners turn to high when someone leaves the room, and strange noises reverberate throughout the house.  Cecilia knows Adrian is there, but convincing others of the same proves to be an exercise in futility.

     Given the title character is, well invisible, the entire weight of the story falls directly on the shoulders of Elisabeth Moss and her ability to sell both the unseen trauma, as well as the presence of the invisible enemy to the audience.  You have to believe there is something out there which is incredibly terrifying, yet remains unseen.  To that extent, Moss turns in an exceptional performance while often presented in circumstances that have her as the solo character on screen. But this isn’t some damsel in distress needing to be saved by a man. If anything Moss’ Cecilia projects a character sharing many of the attributes seen in Linda Hamiliton’s Sarah Connor of the “Terminator” films.  A thought brought home by a key sequence taking place in a mental hospital, harking back to the same in that franchise’s best entry “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.”  As the potential threat of Adrian being alive begins to take shape, Cecilia gets stronger and more adept at meeting her advesary head on.

     Whannell utilizes the age old strategy perfected in films like “Jaws” and “Alien” of not showing us the villain in any visual form until late in the third act.  In doing so, he creates a gem of a pot boiler where each and every scene has this inherent tension that seems impossible for the characters to overcome.  Answers do eventually arrive, but the ending will not only surprise you, it will also have you appreciating how clever these characters are.  As in life, not everyone is as they seem, invisible or not.  GRADE: B+