The Invisible Man movie review: Elisabeth Moss brings the chills in a showcase of the unseen horrors of domestic violence

The Invisible Man works because its message is timely, its scares legitimate, and its truth undeniable.

Prahlad Srihari February 28, 2020 14:31:34 IST

3.5/5

Women have gone unheard, been dismissed as hysterical and forced to prove their sanity, even when there has been overwhelming evidence corroborating their truth about abuse. In Leigh Whannell's new film The Invisible Man, Cecilia Kass is made to learn this the hard way.

The Invisible Man movie review Elisabeth Moss brings the chills in a showcase of the unseen horrors of domestic violence

Elisabeth Moss in a still from The Invisible Man

Beaten, gaslighted, and abused by her tech entrepreneur husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson Cohen), Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) decides she has had enough. Refusing to be a prisoner of his tyranny, she escapes from their ocean-side mansion in the middle of the night. In a sequence filmed with suffocating tension, our heart races with each hushed step as she sneaks out of the house. She finds refuge with her sister (Harriet Dyer), their childhood friend (Aldis Hodge), and his teenage daughter (Storm Reid). Her trauma leaves her struggling with a paralysing anxiety that will not go away, making her hypervigilant. Two weeks later, when she hears Adrian has killed himself, leaving her a large part of his fortune, she still refuses to believe her nightmare is over. Written off as crazy instead of being given the benefit of the doubt, she desperately seeks to prove she is being chased by a man no one can see. Of course, no one believes her.

The Invisible Man movie review Elisabeth Moss brings the chills in a showcase of the unseen horrors of domestic violence

Storm Reid and Elisabeth Moss in a still from The Invisible Man

A common trope in psychological horror films featuring female protagonists involves the women repeating incredible explanations to the inexplicable events happening around them. Filmmakers often use this to play with our own ability to understand what is real and what is an illusion. If The Invisible Man had taken that route, you would have been forced to wonder if Cecilia's trauma has caused her to sink into madness. But Whannell uses the setting as a microcosm for a society which not only fails to listen to women’s experiences of trauma suffered at the hands of abusive men, but devalues their testimony. The Invisible Man thus condemns those unseen forces in society that have allowed the systemic abuse of women by taking the side of the abuser.

The Invisible Man movie review Elisabeth Moss brings the chills in a showcase of the unseen horrors of domestic violence

Elisabeth Moss in a still from The Invisible Man

Whannell's reinvention of the famous HG Wells novel (of the same name) and Universal Classic Monster sees the point-of-view shift from the Invisible Man to his victim. The original James Whale version and Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man explored the foreseeable deviances of those with the power to be invisible — and how they can be heroes in public and perverts in private. But as Whannell wants to explore violence against women through the lens of horror, he reveals the Invisible Man to be insidious and manipulative well before he becomes invisible. His torments increase in wickedness, from pulling her bed sheet to sabotaging her job interview to destroying her support systems. For Whannell, power does not just trigger perversions, it feeds them. Thus, with this novel spin on an oft-told tale, the film stops invisibility from being just a voyeuristic gimmick.

The camera itself becomes an invisible observer creeping around the house, scanning every part of it to find the titular threat. Like Cecilia, we feel his insidious presence with the cold white vapour of his breath, the moving objects, and the imprint of his footsteps. Benjamin Wallfisch's throbbing electronic sounds add to the emotional suffocation. Static shots of the decor further awaken a sense of present or future danger, and they are intercut with the panic and paranoia on Cecilia's face.

The Invisible Man movie review Elisabeth Moss brings the chills in a showcase of the unseen horrors of domestic violence

A still from The Invisible Man

Moss communicates with her bulging blue eyes the terror of past trauma, the panic of being systematically tyrannised, the helplessness of not being believed, and the courage to take her tyranniser down head on.

The Invisible Man is possibly the best film to come out of the Blumhouse assembly line, since Whannell's own cyberpunk thriller Upgrade. Even when the film goes down predictable paths, it does so with the flair of a finely tuned thriller. It works because its message is timely, its scares legitimate, and its truth undeniable.

Rating: ***1/2

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