Extremely traumatic and incredibly worthwhile.
- The audience never has to question Cecilia's sanity
- Excellent use of negative space
- Horrifying in a triggering kind of way
- The reclamation of autonomy
- Horrifying in a triggering kind of way
- Maybe a hair too long
After Universal's Monster Universe failed to get off the ground, it felt like we'd never get to see any of the classic monsters reclaim their former glory. Enter writer/director Leigh Whannell's deeply disconcerting Invisible Man, and all the trauma it dredges up with it.
The film follows Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) as she tries to escape her abusive ex Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). With the help of some sedatives, Cecilia manages to slip out of the optic scientist's sleek beach home (compound?) with the help of her sister. The next time we see her, she's safe in the home of her friend James (Aldis Hodge), and his daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid). This location is meant to read as a safe space, a feeling that's heightened by the knowledge that James is a cop and that Cecilia is genuinely loved by both he and his daughter.
While each actor involved brings a solid performance, it's never not clear that Moss' Cecilia Kass is the star. That's a feature, not a bug! Storm Reid's Sydney is a darling who you want to keep safe at all costs, while Hodge's James brings that (mostly) empathetic, comforting vibe from start to finish. But this was always meant to be Moss' movie. Whannell wanted to be sure that the film's protagonist felt real , and the writing coupled with Moss' stellar performance delivers that in spades.
Despite her support group's insistence that she is safe, Cecilia can't shake the feeling that Adrian will find her and take her away again. Her fear is so great that she won't so much as venture outside on her own. Though her friends are patient with her and do their best to hold her hand through her recovery, it isn't until Adrian is announced dead that her fear begins to subside.
Even without seeing the film, I'm sure you can guess that her comfort was short-lived.
The Invisible Man: What I loved
What unfolds after Adrian fakes his own death is a masterclass in mental and physical abuse. People in Cecilia's life are moved around her like chess pieces as she desperately tries to get them to believe Adrian is still alive. Her fear is written off as paranoia to everyone around her, but not to the viewer. As the audience, we know she isn't crazy — a move that was incredibly smart on Whannell's part.
There's a lot of difficulty in telling a story like Cecelia's. It takes a substantial amount of listening to women around you and even more empathy. Both are made evident in The Invisible Man. It's that little bit of balance that takes this deeply triggering 2-hour film and shifts it from being solely traumatic to a compelling story that may or may not result in a three-hour anxiety attack for survivors.
Though this certainly isn't the first film to have a mostly unseen antagonist, the use of negative space is absolutely masterful. Because we're made to believe Cecilia from the jump, we know that there's something invisible staring back at her even if we're just staring at a blank space. Empty showers, blank walls, deserted doorways, and vacant chairs are all utilized to drive the tension home. This is made possible not just through cinematography, but Moss' exceptional performance as well.
Somehow equally impressive is the use of crowded spaces, though these scenes are used for a different kind of torture. Every abuser like Adrian knows that they can carry out said abuse in front of the world without consequence just as surely as every victim understands it to be true. It's the deepest form of gaslighting. It also gives viewers who may not have experienced such things the illusion that the setting is safe when, in reality, our protagonists have never been in more danger.
If all of this feels like a lot for those who worry that The Invisible Man might dredge up more uncomfortable feelings than your standard horror film, it's worth noting that Cecilia does get her moment. There's no run of the mill "happy ending" in sight, but our girl reclaims her autonomy in her own way before it's all said and done. For me, this moment was hugely satisfying. While I'd usually leave it at that as the reviewer, I will say that your mileage may vary in this specific and trigger-filled circumstance.
The Invisible Man: Where it struggles
With that in mind, you'll notice that I listed just how deeply this film will cut certain survivors as both a pro and a con of the film. Make no mistake; I find The Invisible Man to be exceptional both from technical and entertaining perspectives. It's beautifully shot, considerately written, and does its job as a horror film impeccably.
And I will never, ever watch it again.
Since I'm new to the Cord Cutters family, it feels worth noting that horror is my home. It comforts me. I love the catharsis and terror of the genre. That being said, the aforementioned three-hour panic attack was me. This movie does its job so well that it left me shook to my core and stressed me out long after that anxiety subsided. That is its job! And I don't regret watching it for a second. But once was enough.
As for other complaints, there aren't many! It's pretty solid all around. If anything, I'd say that it could have trimmed 5 to 10 minutes off the runtime. There's not nearly as much dead weight as other contemporary films, but it could have tightened things up just a hair and gotten another half star from me.
The Invisible Man: Should you watch it?
Absolutely! Even if you land in the same camp that I did in the sense that you'll only watch it the once, I wholeheartedly recommend this not just to horror fans, but to anyone who has experience with abusive exes. Hell, even if you're just an Elisabeth Moss fan! The actress has proven time and time again that she has the chops for taking deeply traumatized protagonists and making them exceptional, and her performance as Cecilia is no different.
The Invisible Man is an excruciatingly on-point example of how an abuser can systematically destroy someone's life while the whole of society happily agrees that they're a lovely person. It displays how victims can be in constant danger, whether they're at home or in a crowded room. And, most importantly, how abusers can shift their attacks to include the victim's loved ones which result in a bad time.
Is it a stressful watch? Without question. That stress also results in the joyous moments — though there are few of them — feeling more tangible. You can feel the weight lift of Cecilia's shoulders for those few blissful moments she believes Adrian is dead in the beginning the same way you can't help but smile as she bonds with James and Sydney.
The Invisible Man is available now digitally.
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