The Invisible Man (2020)
Updated: Mar 14, 2023
The best uses of genre in film are when it uses particular tropes to comment on a specific issue. With the commercialization of genre films, however, this can easily be lost to the cashing in and exploitation of clichés. Horror has been a particular genre that has been milked heavily by studios, with only the occasional films proving to be a deeper commentary on something else. Thankfully, Universal has delivered a new and fascinating take on “The Invisible Man.”
The Invisible Man (2020) is the story of Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) an architect who is in an abusive relationship with inventor Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). She escapes from their home in the opening minutes of the film, but is haunted by his possible stalking of her whereabouts. When she is informed of his suicide, Cecilia is not comforted, convinced that Adrian has managed to turn himself invisible to continue tormenting her.
The thematic twist of using The Invisible Man to comment on the paranoia and trauma that an abusive relationship can bring, is a genius one. The psychological underpinnings to this entire concept allow for a close immersion into the mind of an abuse victim, and how everyone around her is incapable of seeing her pain and fear. It is the isolation that is the biggest achievement of the film, and how any comments of empathy feel empty when considering the true horror being brought down on such a victim. The film might get lost in the complexities of its overall message in its finale, as it tries to find too many dimensions to its theme, but it doesn’t dilute the core message of the haunting feeling these victims feel.
Writer-director Leigh Whannell who had previously surprised viewers with his revenge tale Upgrade (2018), is able to bring about a deft restraint and pause to The Invisible Man that makes the majority of the film truly gripping. The ability to make audiences cringe with the shot of an empty doorframe or an empty chair is truly a testament to the prowess at twisting and chipping away at our courage. Whannell doesn’t go by an easy route of jump-scares, instead choosing a slow trickle of details that at first one might think of as coincidences. It is this steady build that allows us to understand the insanity that Cecilia descends into, making each successive scene all the more chilling. Towards the finale, however, Whannell seemed to be evoking the more action-heavy moments of Upgrade and made the surrounding aura of terror to dissipate with fight scenes that seemed incredibly out of place.
Elisabeth Moss proves yet again, after her stellar work on television (Mad Men (2007-2015), The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-)) that she is one of the best actresses working today. She is able to capture the fear of Adrian from even before the audience is aware of her story. The first few scenes make no specific mention to any abuse towards Cecilia, and yet Moss’ silent and tense face is able to convey an entire history of pain. Throughout the film she is able to transfer the complexities of her character, who has strength in her resilience, while also everlasting scars and a fragile confidence.
In the end, The Invisible Man proves to be a delightful adaptation of H.G. Well’s book as well as the 1930s films. The use of the film to study the psychology of domestic abuse is an ingenious and insightful one that lends an intriguing depth into the horror concept. Whannell might get lost in his own ideas towards the finale, but Moss’s spectacular work is able to round out a truly haunting film.