GORE IN THE STORE
THE INVISIBLE MAN ***
Directed by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge.
Science-Fiction, thriller, U.S., 124 mins.
In UK cinemas 28th February from Universal
Writer and director Leigh Whannel's updated spin on one of the genre cinemas most enduring boogeymen it could not have arrived in a more timely manner. In a week that saw Harvey Weinstein, one of cinemas most powerful, intimidating and monstrous real life figures, finally face justice for his crimes against numerous women, Whannel updates The Invisible Man to an age where the issues of domestic abuse, gaslighting and intimidation against women fit all too easily into place with what was once only a tale of scientific hubris twisting into immorality.
H.G Wells 1897 novel laid out its storyline exclusively from the point of view from its titular character. Here Whannell puts the victim front and centre, concentrating on Elisabeth Moss's Cecelia. In a tense near-silent opening, we watch as she tries to make her escape from her abusive boyfriend Adrian, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, from their brutalist architect, cliff side mansion where he conducts experiments in optics. Without dialogue, Whannell expertly lays out character motivation, tension and his use of wide-open empty spaces. Later, when Moss learns of Adrian's death, a seemingly empty room soon becomes a genuinely threatening environment when it seems that Adrian may somehow still be tormenting Cecelia. However, due to her paranoia and PTSD, the question that this may be a lasting effect of Moss's sanity is immediately called into question by her sister Emily, Harriet Dyer, and policeman friend James, Aldis Hodge.
This issue of possible gas-lighting neatly evokes the problems that have captured the headlines over the past few years marking it out as a Zeitgeist film. This could be construed as a cynical move to cash in on such a subject, but thanks to Moss's presence and committed performance, it never comes across as such. Adding to her portrayal of June Osborne in The Handmaid's Tale, Moss commits herself to the material with a soulful performance of a beaten-down woman slowly learning to stand up for herself. One nicely written scene has Moss wondering aloud why she has been chosen for such a campaign of abuse sitting in a room that may or may not be inhabited by someone else other than herself.
That such a hot topic in a mainstream horror film never comes across as exploitative shows how much more talented Whannell has become since the already effective thrills and bloody scares that were his trademark when he collaborated with James Wan on the SAW and INSIDIOUS franchises. Where his solo debut UPGRADE was a superior throwback to the days 80s and 90s adult bone-crunching sci-fi, this can be also be viewed as a throwback to the women in peril thrillers of those days too. The likes of JAGGED EDGE and DOUBLE JEOPARDY with their own is he or isn't he male antagonists are evoked when watching this 21st-century entry with its own technological and societal upgrades.
While well-paced the film slightly deflates its tension as it moves onwards despite the placement of some well-placed shock moments along the way to a steely and morally grey climax. However, despite its dark subject matter, THE INVISIBLE MAN always manages to entertain and delivers a solid adult thriller.
Blumhouse continues their hot streak of current issue based horror and slick bloody-minded entertainment with this take on a character that was earmarked for Johnny Depp in Universals failed attempt to update their stable of horror characters for its own Dark Universe franchise. In Whannel's hands, he has given the audience a much more threatening and timely interpretation than what we nearly ended up with. If he gets the opportunity to play with such characters again, it will be exciting to see what he can come up with next time.