Have you ever felt helplessly insane? Like your grip on reality has suddenly become completely muddled, and even when you trepidly attempt to rationalize the situation, you still end up running circles around yourself, creating an infinite figure eight of confusion? Well, if not, gear up, because this specific feeling seems to permeate the two hour and five-minute runtime of Leigh Whanell’s 2020 horror trip entitled “The Invisible Man.”
The film concerns a woman named Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss), who has just left her psychologically abusive, tech-wiz boyfriend named Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). The narrative begins with Cecilia’s murky escape from Adrian’s eerily slick oceanside mansion, where she has to maneuver through intense security cameras and jump over intimidating cement walls in order to make it out alive. Then, not long after her calculated exit, she learns from her sister that Adrian has reportedly committed suicide. And just when it seems that Cecilia is now free to restart her life, she starts to witness some oddly familiar behavior. Objects miraculously gain autonomy and creep in a sinister way all around her, she starts hearing someone breathing beside her even when she’s completely alone and a bloody pill bottle makes a mysterious appearance on her bathroom counter. The film then transforms into a psychological battleground, as Cecilia grows more and more convinced that Adrian is not only still alive, but is also torturing her through some complicated, indiscernible method. All while the people closest to her begin to believe that Cecilia is actually just slowly descending into madness.
Where this film really shines is when its petrifying thematic elements are allowed to dominate every frame. There are many scenes where the director takes the liberty to experiment with empty space. This typical, mundane setting — though no figments of the traditional horror canon ever make an appearance — becomes the most effective sight of terror. Moments like an invisible footprint or a growing stovetop flame become elements of a squeamish sensory overload. Proven when during these peculiar scenes, the audience would let out putrid groans of disgust instead of just throwaway jump screams (don’t worry, there’s plenty of those too).
The film doesn’t just exist to spook you in a hauntingly unique way though, it also rests as a meditation on the all-too-common trauma that sneaks itself into a woman’s life. Cecilia is constantly on the brink, her icy blue eyes always seem to be silently screaming out, desperately clinging to her life. However, her voice works as a powerful juxtaposition, as she delivers her lines in a minuscule, almost whisper-like tone. This fantastic performance helps elevate the almost metaphorical idea that trauma is inescapable. It (or he) lingers in Cecilia’s hallways, her attorney’s office, and even her job interviews. As much as she tries to escape it, she just can’t — it’s all consuming. And as much as the people around her try to empathize, they refuse to gain an honest comprehension of how deep her agony actually runs. Bursts of tightly choreographed violent action, as well as all of the top-notch twists, are even more effective — proving that maybe the scariest thing in the world isn’t just what you don’t know, but what you know all too well. The thing that, even when not visible to the rest of the world, you can spot in flying colors. Which feels like an important, somewhat universal truth that needs to be explored.
Though a lot of its technical elements make this film into an emotional (and at times, believe it or not, incredibly fun) pipe bomb, it does have a few glaring issues which mostly chalk up to its haphazard script. At times, the dialogue and characters feel a little flat, as meaningless one-liners tend to fall out of memory as soon as they are spoken. A good chunk of the dialogue between characters feels like its only purpose is to spoon feed basic plot points to the audience, instead of being a dynamic addition to the scene. Side characters, though they do provide minor comic relief (especially the undeniably sweet performances from Storm Reid and Aldis Hodge), are often very over reactive and tend to switch their entire demeanor with the drop of a hat. This makes it seem as if they are only meant to exist as pawns who are at the discretion of what the narrative needs to move along which completely sacrifices what could have been some truly rich characterizations.
Overall, this is a very solid, exciting take on a feminist horror film with some smart, incredibly dark themes that beg to be thought about after viewing. Though it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel due to some lazy writing, within its own sort of traditional parameters, “The Invisible Man” somehow finds a way to simultaneously surprise, entertain and, ultimately, terrify.
Email Isabella Armus at [email protected]