MCN Commentary & Analysis

Review: The Invisible Man

I didn’t know exactly what to expect from The Invisible Man when I sat down. The ads told me that the woman at the center, played by the always-compelling and more-interesting-than-your-average movie star, Elisabeth Moss, was not imagining it all. They told me that, eventually, others would suffer the wrath of the man formerly known as visible and that he was a manipulative prick. They told me she would fight back.

Okay. Did they give away too much? Could I predict what was going to happen in every act?

Lights down. Film starts. Our hero is in bed with the man we assume will torture her for the rest of the film. She wakes up. She moves away from him very carefully. I won’t play out the sequence, but what doesn’t happen is the filmmaker showing us much about him. That would be the normal play. We know he will end up being invisible somehow… probably not just in her imagination. But unless we have been misled, he isn’t going to be the center of the film. So we need to know… No, we don’t.

The house is very Sleeping With The Enemy, circa 2020, meaning lots of cameras and keypads and ways for him to control her. But what we don’t get from 1991 is the guy. This is post-feminist movie feminism. Fuck the guy. He is the asshole bad guy. He doesn’t deserve the screen time. All we need to know is how she feels. And I am not being facetious. Another controlling male asshole is not interesting. But she is complex.

We are in a movie that is very much a genre piece, but loaded with the unexpected. This woman isn’t worried about whether she has the towels right. She is 100% clear on the game that she is stuck in and she wants out, even if her trauma from this idiot is still controlling her life.

Let me note, before moving forward, that the film is very nicely shot for a Blumhouse production. It looks like a studio movie. It is clean. The shots are simple and compelling. This director is not trying to prove he can direct.

The other advantage of the way writer-director Leigh Whannell chooses not to set things up is that we are piecing together details through the rest of the first act, as our hero, Cecilia, hides out.

The end of the first act is the element set up in the ads and trailer. Her evil ex has left her a nice chunk of money, suggesting all will be okay. But we know, thanks to the ads, that the invisible asshole is coming to make her life hell.

I won’t spoil anything, but throughout the second act, I was surprised by small turns that were taken. After all, an invisible man with a lot of time and money has all kinds of crazy power. We have no idea what he really wants, learning his motives increasingly as the movie goes along. Whannell doesn’t go creepy-pervy, offering moments of invisible POV, but not the leering stalker kind, even when we are POVing two women asleep in their underwear.

When I read through the Rotten Tomatoes list of reviews, I saw one person wrote, “The Invisible Man lacks for truly terrifying moments.” I don’t know what this person’s standard is, but I wondered to myself if they complained that the rape in Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible wasn’t hard enough to watch.

What makes The Invisible Man work, in spite of being weirdly old-fashioned, aside from its politics, is your relationship with this woman, Cecilia. She is so fragile. She is so full of self-doubt. But she is a fighter. And the people she chooses to be around are all fighters. The idea of being desperate to prove something that no one else can see and not seeming insane is a great one. But smartly, she isn’t just trying to prove she isn’t nuts. She is motivated on a personal level as well. And that keeps it interesting.

This movie also takes its time from start to finish. There are a few bumpy beats. But there are also expected, cliche beats that we know are coming that Whannell simply decides to let pass and an instant, the better idea sneaking up on us right in front of our eyes.

I was impressed. I am pretty sure I will stop and watch it when it shows up on the dial a number of times, wanting to dissect certain sections. It’s not high-level Hitchcock or De Palma or Alex Garland or Verhoeven, to whom the film owes a great debt, although it chooses never to be as joyously perverse and Verhoeven. Ii is also like an inverse Hollow Man, even though the man is still the invisible one. That film loved its gags. That film loved its perversions. This film is about a sane woman who really wants to move past all that after realizing how crazy and dangerous her genius romance is.

There were a bunch of turns that I didn’t anticipate and that is a lot of fun for someone who sees as many movies as I do. There are plenty of movies with great ideas that don’t deliver. There are movies that deliver on their limited ideas. This film has an interesting idea on top of a classic genre idea and gave me something I hadn’t seen before and had fun chasing along with.

10 Responses to “Review: The Invisible Man”

  1. Hcat says:

    Thanks for the review, been very curious about this. Love Moss but it always seems the more she is given to do the smaller the platform she gets (recurring guest on Broadcast, supporting on Cable, star on Streaming). She is certainly seems to be a mark of quality, her choosing a project would make me want to check it out.

    And of course this is how the Universal Monsters should be revamped, the originals weren’t massive budget busting epics, they were lean and tight.

  2. cadavra says:

    I dunno. Take away the invisibility, and it looks like all those cookie-cutter woman-terrorized-by-stalker cheapies that Screen Gems was churning out by the carload in the Culpepper days. I’m gonna wait and get some more opinions before subjecting myself to what looks like a glossier version of female-torture-porn.

  3. Stella's Boy says:

    Hmm I don’t get that vibe at all. And 71 at Metacritic plus 90% at RT. Seems fairly unanimous. But you should see it with an open mind and decide for yourself.

  4. Hcat says:

    So if they took the invisibility out of the Invisible Man it would look generic? If the took the Spider out of Spider Man it would look like a generic teen comedy? If they didn’t have the Creature in that Black Lagoon movie it would just be a boring boat ride?

    I do see what you are saying Cad, but just because there have been numerous terrible women in peril movies doesn’t necessarily mean someone can’t make a good one if there is talent involved. What strikes me as the closest comparable to IM in the last few years would be Unsane, having this more of a Gaslight movie than some Nicholas Sparks exboyfriend who can’t let go cheapie. Just as a logline for a Jodie Foster thriller might have been similar to a logline for an Ashley Judd thriller, the execution is what would differentiate the two.

  5. Hcat says:

    And I think we can all be happy that we are not staring down the release of a 100 million dollar cackling Johnny Depp Dark Universe Invisible Man.

  6. Stella's Boy says:

    Amen to that Hcat. And I really like the spin Whannell has put on the story. Making it about a toxic relationship and domestic abuse seems like a pretty smart approach. I also like Upgrade a whole lot. So all in all very excited to see this.

  7. Karl says:

    I’ve been very curious ever since hearing my wife’s vehemently negative reaction to the trailer. Why would a woman want to watch entertainment in which a woman is terrorized by an invisible threat and struggles being gaslit by everyone around her who tells her she’s crazy for perceiving said threat. I can’t say I disagree with her. The movie itself may be more/different, and maybe it is based on this review, but it does seem to be the crux of the marketing. Thanks for the review – you’ve given me more to consider with this movie.

  8. Dave says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this film. Really surprised how effective the ending was even though you knew the story had to take her back to the house. In this slow period after the Oscars-and before the summer, this was a worthy night out.

  9. Stella's Boy says:

    Karl look around a bit. Women love this movie. The marketing does not tell the whole story. It’s just like the people who insisted the trailer have away too much and since seeing it walked back that claim. A trailer is not a movie.

  10. Stella's Boy says:

    Well it is definitely as good as advertised. I loved it. Clever, genuinely thrilling, timely and timeless, great effects work, and some good surprises. I can imagine this one being on my top 10 list come the end of the year. Between this and the incredibly fun Upgrade I am firmly on Team Leigh Whannell. What an exciting young filmmaker. As someone who hates Saw and the Insidious movies I really did not see that coming. But happy to be surprised.

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