Review: THE INVISIBLE MAN, The Horror that Hides in Plain Sight
Occidental justice systems are set up around proof; more specifically, physical proof. You need to show the receipts, so to speak. And if those receipts aren't to its liking, the justice system has no time for you. This is one of the many reasons why women who have experienced abuse at the hands of their partner are ignored by the system: their abusers are smart enough to leave no evidence, or misleading evidence, and so women are not believed.
Leight Whannell (Upgrade) takes an odd favourite out of the Universal Monsters group and repackages it as a pseudo-rape/revenge story. Bringing Elisabeth Moss along for the ride (and to do the heavy lifting), his latest feature The Invisible Man aims to rise above its B-movie origins and stand alongside horror films that find the balance between entertainment and examination of real problems. Instead of focusing on the man, Whannell turns his attention to those around him, who could be victims of someone whose ego allows them to get away with whatever they can, with no evidence left behind.
We meet Cecilia (Moss) the night she is leaving her abusive lover; she has planned this so carefully, yet she is still terrified, taking us with her immediately as we tensley watch her make her escape. A moment of compassion threatens to derail her plans, and Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) almost catches her; we only catch a glimpse of him, but it's enough to know that Cecilia is doing the right thing. Though women face the greatest danger when they decide to leave their abusive partner, and Cecilia will be no exception.
For it seems that Adrian has killed himself, and left Cecilia a fortune, on the condition that, among other things, she not be declared mentally incompetent. But she doesn't believe it. She's spent years being watched by him and she knows what it feels like. Suddenly, she's being drugged, her portfolio is stolen, and someone is pulling the covers off the bed in the middle of the night. But of course, no one believes her: not her sister Emily (Harrier Dyer), with whom Cecilia's relationship is ruined by a suspicious email; not her friend James (Aldis Hodge) or his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), with whom she has taken shelter. And especially not Adrian's brother Tom (Michael Dorman), who claims to have also been a victim of his brother's abuse, and refuses to believe that his brother, a genius in optics, could have faked his own death.
Whannell sets us up to be a witness to Cecilia - in effect, an invisible witness - and the continued abuse she suffers, or at least, appears to suffer. It starts with a pan of bacon being set on fire - did it just get overheated when Cecilia left the room, or did someone turn up the gas? Did Cecilia forget to bring her portfolio to a very important job interview, or did someone take it? Did she send an abusive email to her sister, or did someone hack her computer? Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio pan the camera into the empty corner and spaces of the rooms, as if daring us to search the screen for a small clue.
The films moves between this long, lingering shots which build up tension and fear, and jump scares that will leave you scared enough to hide youe eyes behind your hands (I did, and yes, I still peeked a bit). The effect of seeing the only the victim is quite unsettling: as in real life, we might admit these things are happening to her, but the 'evidence' is lost, therefore we cannot, or refuse to help.
Moss has many talents; but one of them is the way she can convey emotion through her facial expressions. She knows when to let everything show, and went to hint at things. The way Cecilia is almost entirely convinced that it is her ex, somehow invisible, who is harassing her, or maybe, just maybe, it is she who is responsible - that wavering every so slightly flickers across her face, or lingers on her mouth that is both a smile and a scowl at the same time. As in any rape/revenge story, eventually, Cecilia has had enough - she can't count on the police, she's been isolated from her friends, so she must take matters into her own hands. And you can figure out the point at which Whannell, Moss, and the team ramp up the stakes - finding the clever ways in which you would and could fight someone who is invisible, who might have an advantage, but can't always have the upper hand.
While arguably not as tight as it could have potentially been, The Invisible Man cleverly combines its horror and action tropes with themes of abuse, trauma, and survival. With Moss carrying much of the film with strength and nuance, Whannell keeps the audience on the seat's edge in fear and anticipation, desperately searching for the monster that hides in plain sight.