When it comes to high-concept modern horror, Leigh Whannell is one of the frontrunners. Together with James Wan, Australian writer-director conceived Saw and engineered several sequels before crafting the sci-fi-tingly horror franchise which “reinvents” long-corridor-and-dark-corner terror in Insidious (with the third chapter marking his directorial debut). When Blumhouse is set to small-sized reboot Universal’s now-scrapped Dark Universe, they begin with The Invisible Man; and, when they give him creative credentials, it’s a game on.
Whannell’s Invisible Man remodels the concept in almost its entirety—leaving only the terror not visible to bare eyes. While based on the character by H.G. Wells, the monster movie elements, which might sound campy, are held minimum. There’s no bandage-man as in James Whale’s 1933 Invisible Man or latex-man as in Paul Verhoeven’s depraved Hollow Man. Whannell crafts a more domestic story, involving an abusive relationship, with the titular figure kept in the background. The result is an unnerving thriller from start to finish exploiting empty spaces, unseen terror, and a taut gaslighting mystery; most importantly, the star is not the Invisible Man.
Elisabeth Moss steps into the spotlight as the protagonist, Cecilia Kass, who had just escaped from her abusive partner, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a tech mogul specializing in the optical industry. Relationship with Adrian is described as a real nightmare as the billionaire keeps manipulating and gaslighting Cecilia to the extent that she feels as she’s held captive. Even when she’s successfully escaped with huge assistance from her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), and her old friend, James (Aldis Hodge), the trauma is real for her—giving her agoraphobia and acute anxiety. Things get weirder when Adrian is reported dead but Cecilia begins to experience strange events and unseen pranks, which she suspects is the deed of her ex who has gone invisible.
In recent years, we have seen Moss abused and terrorized in many forms, including patriarchal superiority in The Handmaid’s Tale. However, The Invisible Man further explores her adeptness in surviving the constant abuse and conducting subversive fight-back moments. Moss is fabulous with her convincing performance. She single-handedly projects the sense of dread of being targeted by vengeful, unseen figures; even when she’s alone on the screen, her performance gives us the harrowing chills thinking whether there’s actual invisible malice or simply a fragment of her traumatized mind.
Like Midsommar last year, this new rendition takes an unhealthy relationship to the center of its horror. Toxic masculinity triggers real-life horror, which can be as harrowing as fiction, in a highly unpleasant situation. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the whole story becomes more relevant and disconcerting to some. It’s almost like a beacon for those trapped in an unhealthy relationship to move forward before things get weirder and more diabolical. Whannell explores the horror of abusive relationships since the beginning where Cecilia executes her escape plan; since then, the thriller never stops. The Invisible Man, at some points, is almost resembling the trauma which abuse-victims has to live on long after the relationship is over.
The second half of the movie observes Whannell’s return to the tech-horror area, which feels like it belongs to the same universe as his 2018 body horror, Upgrade. It’s the moment where the titular character takes the center-stage and wreaks havoc with some real actions. This is the moment where the gaslighting mystery comes to an end and the full-frontal spectacles, which showcases the writer-director’s signature moments.
The bleak twist at the end adds a deeper layer to the whole story and since then, The Invisible Man lingers and won’t let you go long after the movie ends. The whole high-concept horror pays off at the end on a very high note.