Directed by Leigh Whannell
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
If there is one unsavory side effect of the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s that every studio is now on the hunt for any intellectual property that they can spin off into its own world of interconnected movies.
Apart from the DC Comics world of superheroes, Warner Bros is still intent on shoring up its MonsterVerse franchise, with a King Kong versus Godzilla movie set to be released within the year after three solo movies featuring the two behemoths. And over at Universal, plans for the launch of a Dark Universe movie series seemed to be dead in the water after a reboot of The Mummy starring Tom Cruise did a belly flop in theatrical release three years ago.
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But is the Dark Universe really dead? This week, cineplexes will be unveiling The Invisible Man, whose title is the only obvious thing about it. If you were thinking of the shades and the unfurling bandages hanging in mid-air from the Claude Rains 1933 classic, there is none of that in this telling. If you were thinking that this version would make the titular character the de facto protagonist, it doesn’t. Instead, Universal made the wise choice of cutting down on hollow CGI spectacle, while writer-director Leigh Whannell chose to focus not on the monster, but on his victim. The result is a taut, tightly constructed thriller that actually says something.
Without taking a breath for exposition, the film opens with Cecilia Kass, and because she’s played by Elisabeth Moss, the character’s haunted eyes tell you everything you need to know. She has drugged her fiancé Adrian (The Haunting of Hill House’s Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and is now creeping around the house with its unnervingly open architecture, executing her escape. The entire sequence is almost unbearable in the ways it instantly sucks you in and builds its suspense…and that’s just the first 15 minutes. Its genius lies in how it forces you as a viewer to fill in all the blanks—Adrian’s abuse, Cecilia’s abject terror and unbelievable courage, the dynamics of their tortured relationship—even as you witness the surface tension thrumming before you.
It’s a genius the film keeps displaying over and over again. Cecilia is rescued by her sister Alice (Harriet Dyer), and for added security, holes up with a formidably built friend who happens to be a police detective (Aldis Hodge) and his budding fashion-designer daughter (Storm Reid). But then comes word that Adrian has committed suicide, and has left 5 million in a trust for her to be disbursed in 100,000-dollar monthly increments, provided she can prove mental competency at all times. That Cecilia takes the money so she can finance the dreams of her friend’s daughter feels like a rough form of justice.
And yet…Cecilia feels like her ordeal isn’t over. She doesn’t feel safe in her solitude, and suddenly empty rooms start to feel menacing. This is Whannell forcing your mind to fill in the blanks again, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that The Invisible Man does for innocently open doorways what Psycho did for showers.
The Invisible Man rests its weight on Elisabeth Moss’ petite shoulders, and the actress rises up to the challenge with a performance that is fierce in its vulnerability. As the mind games escalate and the people in her life turn away from her in alienation or in suspicion of her growing mental instability, Moss places you squarely in the mind of a woman whose abuse is constantly met with a wall of silence, whose torment is dismissed as a figment of her own rickety grasp on reality. The Invisible Man is the first thriller to use the victimization of its lead as a head-on comment on what it’s like to live as a woman in the age of #MeToo.
Cecilia Kass is not crafted to be a Strong Female Lead. She continues to be a simpering casualty of her circumstances begging for validation until a mid-movie act of violence in a restaurant—so brazen in its brutality, yet staged to be rooted in the annoying solicitousness of the waiter—forces Cecilia to fight for her survival. And then all bets are off. For a minute, you wonder if Whannell has learned too much from former collaborator James Wan (the two have unleashed the Saw and Insidious franchis
Photographs from United International Pictures