Abused and manipulated by her sociopathic scientist boyfriend Adrien (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) makes a daring escape from his control. However, even after he is found to have killed himself, his mind games still don’t stop. Cecilia must risk her life and sanity to prove Adrien is still around – even if no one can see him.
H.G Wells’ The Invisible Man novel has been around for nearly 125 years – that’s a narrative with a lot of mileage. There have been many film and television adaptions of the timeless tale, all fairly faithful to the original plot. That’s what made Leigh Whannell’s remake so compelling. Blending the theme of invisibility’s power to drive a lust for control with a narrative about a domestic violence survivor regaining control of their life could have made for a modern horror-thriller masterpiece. Instead The Invisible Man fails to deliver a consistently thrilling and coherent story.
The script falls on two counts – giving away the antagonist too early and failing logic tests. These elements are often the downfall in horror-thrillers but are so frustratingly damning of a narrative’s potential quality.
To the first: a big part of The Invisible Man’s plot is the power of gaslighting to blur the lines of truth and fantasy. Very early on in the film we learn that the mysterious force haunting Cecilia is real and not a figment of her paranoia. Leaving this fact in limbo for longer would have built more tension and made the emotional pay off for Cecilia sweeter.
To the second: one of the film’s major plot points is Adrien’s compulsion for control. Much of the last third of The Invisible Man slips into generic action-genre territory rather than psychological thriller because Adrien acts out of character to expose himself. This is just one example in a narrative dotted with illogical events designed to advance the plot.
Elisabeth Moss has built a stellar television career portraying characters that embody both vulnerability and resilience in the face of patriarchal societal pressure. She brings every scrap of this experience to bear on Cecilia, making her an engaging protagonist that we sympathise with every step. Every facial twitch and nervous glance screams about Cecilia’s inner turmoil as she fights to prove her sanity and save lives – acting mastery rarely seen in horror-thrillers that often prioritise jump scares over substance. Oliver Jackson-Cohen, though rarely seen, offers unhinged charisma in his performance, while Michael Dorman is excellent as Adrien’s shifty brother Tom Griffin. The rest of the cast are quietly strong too – but this really is Moss’ show.
Whannell’s directing compliments Moss’ work. Camerawork is key to thriller films because it restricts viewers’ perspective to build tension or affords us insight into a situation a character doesn’t have. Tracking an invisible antagonist seems futile, but Whannell uses this to his advantage. Panning over empty rooms highlights the negative space around Cecilia constantly, helping us to understand the symbolic isolation from her friends and family. Cecilia’s escape from Adrien at the start of the movie is particularly effective at this. The hauntingly minimalist house is shown as more prison cell than troubled home in every foreboding camera movement, which served as excellent tension building in a story lacking it elsewhere.
The Invisible Man ultimately works out to little more than an outline of the film it was trying to be. While it sheds vital light on the sad normalisation of domestic abuse in society, it often leaves us in the dark when the action picks up.
The Invisible Man is a compelling story about surviving domestic abuse. It is a shame that it’s a less coherent and logical horror-thriller. 6/10.