For many, Blumhouse is a seal of quality, a sign that love, care and attention has been brought to the film you are about to watch. Arguably, a producer hasn’t had the ability to sell a film to the level that Jason Blum can since Jerry Bruckheimer’s dominance of the late 90’s cinematic landscape. And while not every film the production house puts its name to is a hit, it is hard to argue with the returns that most of the films see.
Blum’s method of handing a modest budget to directors with vision has meant that audiences have been treated to some stellar films from some directors that have gone on to do huge things (Jordan Peele, anybody?). This year, with their third collaboration, the same can most definitely be said for The Invisible Man director Leigh Whannell who, after 2018’s sublime sci-fi thriller Upgrade and with the possibility of Universal’s “Dark Universe” long gone has returned to his horror thriller roots with this modern retelling of H.G. Wells’ world-renowned novel.
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Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss – The Handmaid’s Tale) is a desperate woman. Living a life both mentally and physically abused by her long-term boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen – The Haunting of Hill House), she escapes her certainly hopeless future and takes refuge where no one knows to look for her. When news of Adrian’s suicide reaches Cecilia, the brief moments of relief quickly turn into fear and dread as the once near-broken woman feels something isn’t quite right. The hairs on the back of her neck are standing on end as she feels a presence in every room she goes into.
Is Adrian dead? Is he alive? Is he… invisible?
Instead of the freedom escaping her abuser should have granted her, Cecilia is being terrorised by a man she can’t see but is pulling her life apart one thread at a time. Adrian is seemingly torturing her from beyond the grave and she needs to figure out how and stop it before she completely loses her mind.
The Invisible Man is a story of domestic abuse. This much is obvious from any trailer you may watch or synopsis you may read. But Leigh Whannell’s adapted story goes much deeper than to just take a passing glance at this horrific way so many people are forced to live. This over a century old story has been twisted to tell a tale of how a victim of this kind of dreadful abuse may never be truly free of the mental scars it can cause. Cecilia spends the entire film being tortured by someone that she knows is there, but no one else is able, or willing, to see. Try as she might, she’s unable to convince anyone close to her that there is something terribly wrong and even as awful things start to happen around her and to her, it seems impossible for anyone to believe that the man that was obsessed with her to an unhealthy degree is behind everything.
As well as adapting the story, Leigh Whannell is also responsible for the film’s direction. While grounded in mystery, The Invisible Man is a nail-biting thriller that is unrelenting in its assault on its audience. Everything from the sleekly panning camera work to the phenomenal sound mixing is designed meticulously to get you to the edge of your seat and have you gripping the arms with dread at what is, or isn’t, in the room with Cecilia. Whannell is a master of horror cinema and a true student of scares, his direction finds the camera lingering just a little too long on empty space daring you to look for movement and leaving you suspicious and scared of any empty corridor or dark hallway while leaving you shaking and apprehensive of every innocent creak of the house or slightly louder than normal breath.
Building this classic tale revisited as a thriller over a horror means that every single scare is earned. Long before Griffin’s death and his resurrection as the titular Invisible Man, audiences have been holding their breath for fear of making a noise and willing Cecilia’s speedy and silent escape from her captor in the opening moments of the film, it is a feeling of dread that is difficult to master made to look easy in Whannel’s capable hands.
Leigh Whannell ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels before releasing you and letting you breathe with some honest-to-goodness pant-wetting scares. No jump is unearned, no scare is cheap or needless and every scene leaves you feeling more uneasy for the lack of scares to come from it.
This terrifying scenario wouldn’t be half as scary as it is if it wasn’t for the stellar work of Elisabeth Moss. On screen for all but one or two scenes in the entire film, her portrayal of a woman whose hopeless situation could very well get the better of her is one that will haunt you long after you leave the theatre. Moss carries the entire film’s premise that a victim can be haunted long after even the apparent death of an abuser with award worthy levels of anxiety. Every time someone dismisses her fears, every second of terror and each moment that those around her abandon her as inconsequential, the dread is etched on her face and the audience aches with a guilty inability to help when Cecilia truly needs it. It’s a world class lesson in horror acting from the veteran in front of the camera.
The Invisible Man is a truly terrifying, atmospheric thriller that takes pleasure in having its audience dripping in cold sweat. Not letting the scares you know are coming release you from the edge of your seat until you have well and truly earned it. A true masterclass in terror cinema with one of the most well deserved and beautifully choreographed horror pay-offs in years, this modern telling of the classic psychopath story is essential viewing.