Blumhouse brilliantly updates a classic horror trope for the #MeToo era
“This is what he does,” says bad-romance escapee Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss). “He makes me feel like I’m the crazy one. And he’ll do it again.” Is this a horror movie or the Harvey Weinstein trial?
THE INVISIBLE MAN ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Leigh Whannell
Written by: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Elizabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Running time: 124 min
Low-budget nightmare factory Blumhouse continues its reign as the defining producer of the Trump Era with The Invisible Man, a ferocious little paranoid thriller about a trolling, narcissistic sociopath who gets into people’s heads. Making the villain a vengeful billionaire is a bit on the nose, but our current culture isn’t really known for subtlety. Release the pussy-grabbing Kraken!
Millennial feminist Moss plays to type as yet another righteous victim of toxic masculinity, in this case Silicon Valley guru Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), the intense founder of groundbreaking optics company Cobalt. His company’s gizmos and gadgets, never really explained, have something to do with cutting-edge innovations that manipulate what people see. Or something.
Point is, this latest iteration of H.G. Wells’ mad-scientist story has nothing to do with invisibility serums. As befitting its 21st century milieu, we’re talking tiny cameras and visual trickery. You know, technology stuff. Dude is secretly see-through. Just go with it.
Cecilia’s crazy-in-love psycho was so obsessive, she had to drug him to break out of his concrete-bunker mansion in the middle of the night. “He controlled what I ate, what I said, and eventually what I thought,” she explains to her sister Alice (Harriet Dyer). “Did he hit you?” she asks. “Among other things,” says Cecilia ominously.
A few weeks after her great escape, Cecilia is hiding out at the home of Alice’s cop friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Then news breaks of Adrian’s slit-wrist suicide, and Cecilia mysteriously gets a probate court notice. Griffin’s lawyer brother Tom (Michael Dorman) says that Adrian left her five million dollars, to be paid in $100,000 monthly installments. Paid, that is, unless doctors find she’s mentally incompetent.
Why would people think she’s crazy? Because she suddenly senses Adrian’s presence as unexplained incidents pile up. A gas stovetop flips to high. The bedsheets fall off her bed. That kitchen knife tumbles to the floor. The front door is wide open. He’s mind-fucking her, and the more she tries to resist him, the more people are going to think she’s a nut job. His endgame: to break her spirit so he can repossess her.
Leigh Whannell’s nimble reinvention turns the source material on its head. No longer is The Invisible Man a morality tale of a power-hungry lunatic but a hot-take What If? about our truth-is-subjective times. It also takes on the outdated but persistent prejudice against believing women’s claims of domestic abuse. Conceptually, it’s a brilliant pivot.
Working with an insanely low budget of reportedly seven million dollars, the inventive director has nonetheless crafted an impressively efficient and gleefully effective thrill ride. As befits any story where the villain is out of sight but always on the mind, Whannell uses old-fashioned camera movements and editing to create nail-biting suspense out of seemingly innocuous moments. This movie has more than a few static shots of empty frames, goosing the viewer into furiously scanning the image for the slightest sign of Adrian’s presence.
Its only limitations are the implausibility of its increasingly extreme plot twists. There’s one third-act doozy that’s really hard to swallow, plus a climax that makes Cecilia less a sympathetic heroine than an avenging angel. But as a pure adrenaline-pumping exercise in tension, as well as a timely Time’s Up conversation piece, The Invisible Man is a clear and present delight.