Monday 2 March 2020

The Invisible Man (2020) - Movie Review

The Universal Monsters. A stable of cinematic creatures that served as the progenitor for the modern craze surrounding cinematic universes, which itself has found repeated non-success in the post-MCU landscape. Dracula Untold was retrofitted to be part of the ‘Dark Universe’, and the results are unsurprisingly rushed, and the less said about the Tom Cruise vanity project (well, more so than any of his others, at least) The Mummy from 2017, the better. Hell, even before then with the works of Stephen Sommers in the 2000’s, attempts to bring back the classic monsters kept shooting themselves in the foot as far as trying to create serialised franchises out of them.

But now that Universal has stopped putting the cart before the horse, and are letting individual films stand on their own for a change, we have the latest attempt to bring back the old guard. And holy shit, this is easily the best attempt yet.

Writer/director Leigh Whannell has already shown aptitude with this kind of story, that of a woman being stalked and terrorised by a man she can’t even tell is really there, from back in his directorial debut Insidious: Chapter 3, but he’s entered another level of filmmaking with this one. The oppressively quiet sound design, making every little moment that much more vital against the starkness, the almost-real-time pacing that lets the thick atmosphere hang in the air, the terrific visual effects, even the rather impressively sparse yet sharp use of jump-scares; Whannell has truly come into his own and is largely letting the visuals do the talking for him, further building the chemistry he, DOP Stefan Duscio and editor Andy Canny showed with Upgrade.

Not that he’s given up his more empathetic sensibilities as a writer, though. His knack for putting immensely warm characters in insanely cold places holds true here, from the characterisation of Elisabeth Moss’ Cecilia (her best performance to date, by the by), to Harriet Dyer as her sister, even Oliver Jackson-Cohen as the titular Invisible Man. Yeah, the film pulls no punches in showing him for the manipulative monster he is, but it’s kept in the realms of the feasibly human, rather than making him a grotesque caricature of an abusive spouse. He’s more realistic, which only makes him even more terrifying.

As far as depicting gaslighting on the big screen, itself one of the more common narrative tropes in the more fantastical side of horror, this creates a similar response to Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane in how incredible visceral the sensations can get. This film is far less ambiguous than Unsane as far as what’s actually going on, showing Cecilia in the clutches of someone with a supreme understanding of optics, both in the scientific sense to become the Invisible Man, as well as being aware of how certain situations ‘look’ and using that to his advantage.

In depicting such a narcissistic sociopath, Whannell and Moss show an uncomfortable level of understanding of what that level of control looks and even feels like: Getting into another person’s head to the point where even death isn’t enough to let it go. And it’s only when she takes back that control that she can finally face her abuser.

This is a horror reimagining on par with Cronenberg’s The Fly, Carpenter’s The Thing, and Chuck Russell’s The Blob, and it succeeds for the exact same reason: It plucks out the core of the original story, and refracts it through contemporary fears, to create something bloody fantastic. It’s the same kind of examination on brute-force egotism that went into Paul Verhoeven’s take on the source material with Hollow Man, only markedly less trashy and a lot more atmospheric. It’s a brilliant look at the effects of abusive relationships, a suitably visceral depiction of gaslighting in all its soul-crushing potency, and just a great horror film that outperforms a lot of the competition. Leigh Whannell has knocked it out of the park once again.

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