Director: Leigh Whannell
Writers: Leigh Whannell (screenplay and story by)
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer
Runtime: 124 mins
MPAA Rating: R
I generally have to wait a few months into a new year before a high quality movie is released in theaters as January and February are notorious for being the major studios’ dumping grounds. I saw the trailer for The Invisible Man a multitude of times towards the end of 2019, and it looked incredibly silly. I was further turned off when I found out that the film appears to be a reanimated corpse from Universal’s Dark Universe, a hilariously poorly executed idea. The name Leigh Whannell (writer of several Saw and Insidious horror franchise films) did catch my attention as I quite liked his directorial debut Upgrade (2018). Even still, I thought I would skip this film in theaters until I saw the positive aggregate critic score on Metacritic. As it turns out…this film is incredibly silly.
When Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) daringly escapes from her abusive boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a wealthy optical scientist and businessman, with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer), she takes shelter in the home of her friend James (Aldis Hodge), a local cop, and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). However, much to Cecilia’s surprise, Adrian’s death is reported soon after she gains her freedom. All is well until a slew of accidents and haunting occurrences give Cecilia a terrifying revelation: Adrian is stalking her and masking his presence via invisibility technology. Will she be able to convince anyone else that her stalker is real?
I could barely get through the plot synopsis without laughing. For anybody who thinks this movie is a modern retelling of H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction novel, the only commonality between the two stories is the presence of an invisible terrorist named Griffin. On top of invisibility, he possesses the power of teleportation and selectively choosing to not affect the physical world in any way whatsoever as determined by the plot; the invisible man interacts with the environment like a ghost, not a man. The plot cycles through every single awful aspect of modern horror films from the overbearing score and sound design to the numerous cheap fakeout jump scares. The number of plot conveniences is staggering. Characters who need to be elsewhere so that another character can be alone for a frightening sequence just leave their own home without explanation. The villain leaves physical traces of his presence in the environment only when a violent action scene needs to be triggered. Nobody behaves like a normal person would if being physically attacked by another human, invisible or otherwise; the characters in this movie do not even seem to understand the spatial relationships between objects in their immediate surroundings. Every instance of plight in this film is contrived and does not remotely resemble what any fully mentally functioning human being would do in such circumstances. Every moment that is meant to be astonishing is so ridiculous and manufactured to the point that I could barely contain my laughter.
The screenplay is absolutely abysmal though Elisabeth Moss does her best to elevate the dramatic quality. The relationships between characters are awkwardly established, and everyone has little to no chemistry. The actors do a reasonable job with the material, but it is impossible to take anything seriously when the villain’s capabilities and the characters’ actions are so preposterous. At the narrative level, every piece of this plot is telegraphed to the point that every shocking moment in the story is humorous in its execution or entirely uninteresting. There are a few twists at the end, and the film would have not lost much impact by ending a twist or two earlier. Despite not remotely playing within the realm of reality, this movie seems to think it can fall back on the concept of dealing with physical, emotional, and psychological abuse in order to elevate its stature; this aspect of the film appears to be what is most lauded by the critics. I do not understand. This movie has nothing profound to say about relational abuse, a very serious issue. Our main character’s abuser controls, gaslights, and physically tortures her in a manner so ridiculous it is comical despite the film relentlessly insisting that it is emotionally high-stakes. A serious emotional message has no weight when the movie can in no shape or form be taken seriously. Entirely devoid of nuance, the character development consists of our main character going from being a victim of abuse (not shown but stated) to a victim of ludicrous shenanigans (almost the entire movie) to *SPOILER (highlight to view)*<span style="color:white”;> ultimately becoming a vindictive executioner (the very end) END SPOILER. This dissonant progression prevents realistic and meaningful commentary to be made as the film mostly resides within the realm of the absurd while trying to maximize “entertainment value”. The sheer lack of intelligent writing drops this film into the bottom of the barrel.
Though the way he directs his actors leaves much to be desired, Leigh Whannell has a keen eye for visuals and is not afraid to exploit every degree of freedom the camera has. He competently builds tension through slow pans and lingering shots, and he effectively adds a sense of unease through an abundance of negative space. His distinct, almost robotic camera movements during action sequences worked well with the cybernetic aesthetics of Upgrade but just feel unnecessarily jarring in this film’s context. The minimalist shot composition, symmetric framing, low-light settings, and overwhelmingly blue color palette all contribute to the film having a noticeable style. While the overall presentation does look professional especially for a $7,000,000 budget, the film still feels pretty cheap, largely due to obnoxious product placement, which is at odds with the grandiose story it thinks it is telling.
It is rare to see a movie with such a stupid premise take itself so seriously. Outside of some technical elements, not much is done well. For all its faults, this film never gets too boring and should entertain moviegoers who are less Socratic than myself. Obviously, I cannot recommend The Invisible Man but you still might enjoy it if you are into horror films. While I am fairly confident I am not a fan of Leigh Whannell as a screenwriter, I will still check out his subsequent directorial efforts as he possesses some apparent skill behind the camera. All that being said, I still await the first high quality film of 2020.
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