The first must-see thriller of 2020 has been unleashed.
Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) escapes her controlling husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) before hiding out with James (Aldis Hodge), a friendly cop with a teen daughter (Storm Reid). Two weeks later, Adrian’s brother Tom (Michael Dorman) contacts Emily with news for her sister: Adrian appears to have taken his own life, leaving $5 million of his considerable fortune to Cecilia paid in installments seemingly to make amends… under the condition she commits no crime and remains of sound mind. Faster than you can say “Kevin Bacon,” strange things begin happening to and around Cecilia that suggest she may indeed be going crazy… unless Adrian has found a way to haunt her from beyond the grave.
Written and directed by Saw writer Leigh Whannell in yet another adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel, it isn’t a mystery that Moss is being terrorized, but how? The trailers suggest several possibilities including the main character’s willingness to fight for her freedom, but the film also clearly capitalizes upon the behavior of a villain who gaslights and controls his victim. With a Blumhouse-sized budget (read: not much) and less-than-stellar reviews for Fantasy Island from only a few weeks back, has the so-called “Dark Universe” finally launched successfully, or will this remake merely glorify triggering violence toward women?
Whatever Elisabeth Moss was paid for this, it wasn’t enough, elevating the material every moment she’s on the screen. That’s not nothing, especially considering how the story repeatedly surprises by going off in new directions every time viewers think they know what’s going to happen. The audience’s mistrust of assumed plot points mirrors Cecilia’s lack of control and understanding so perfectly that one cannot help but empathize. With tricks of misdirection, creative camera angles, and spot-on editing to tighten an already above-average script, this thriller is far better than the trailers suggest and earns every moment of attention… and hopefully Moss has a back-end deal for a profit percentage.
This isn’t a horror film; it’s a thriller through and through. That isn’t to say it isn’t frightening, just more cerebral than graphic. Trailers featured more than a few extraneous bits that happily didn’t make the final cut, suggesting more than showing and keeping viewers guessing as the story rapidly and uncomfortably unfolds. One specific gimmick employed puts the viewer in the POV of the stalker, enabling Moss to ramp up the tension by looking directly into the camera while also looking through it. While it’s clear great care was taken not to exploit what Cecilia endures, anyone having suffered such abuse should take heed; no punches are pulled and one can’t help feel their heart sink every time someone casts doubt on the abusive truth.
While the last act earns its denouement, one could nitpick a few key details, specifically toward physical capabilities, technical knowledge, and even the number of individuals required to truly keep a secret. Nonetheless, this Invisible Man gets so much right than any such shortcomings can be waved away with a well-meaning no-name non-bronze no-prize. One final thought: it’s only a matter of time before Elisabeth Moss wins some huge film awards to mirror her considerable television awards recognition, and this performance is a perfect example as to why.
The Invisible Man is rated R for some strong bloody violence, language, and knowing damn well you’re not the crazy one.
For skull recommendation out of four
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