Elisabeth Moss Puts a Timely Gender Flip on Classic Bogeyman Tale
The Invisible Man
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge & Storm Reid
Directed by Leigh Whannell
In theaters Feb. 28, 2020
Now you see him, now you don’t.
That’s how it is with The Invisible Man, a tale that’s been floating around for more than 120 years, ever since British novelist H.G. Wells originally published his sci-fi yarn about a scientist who figured out how to make himself “disappear.”
The invisible man from Wells’ novel reappeared, so to speak, in the classic 1933 “horror” movie and its 1940 sequel, and then numerous times over the decades in other film and TV adaptations. Kevin Bacon put a sinister twist on the see-through saga in the 2000 movie Hollow Man.
In director Leigh Whannell’s chilling new mind-bending update of The Invisible Man, a woman escapes from her abusive, perversely controlling boyfriend one dark and stormy night. But then she begins to be menaced by something she cannot see—and she’s convinced it’s his “invisible” presence.
But, wait now—everyone knows he just committed suicide just a couple of weeks ago, right? Right???
The woman is Cecilia, played by Elisabeth Moss in a powerful, gut-punch performance that reminds you why she received an Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale, provided such a pivotal role as Peggy Olson on the acclaimed Mad Men, and received raves for her edgy, elemental performances in films like That Smell, The Kitchen and The Square.
Hiding out in the house of a cop friend, James (Aldis Hodge, from TV’s Leverage), and his teenage daughter (Storm Reid), the frightened Cecilia also reaches out to her estranged sister (Harriet Dryer) and tries to get on with her life. But odd, disturbing, spooky, creepy things keep happening. Things that rattle Cecilia, things that mess with her, hurt her, manipulate her—just like her boyfriend used to do.
Cecilia’s senses tell her that somehow, it’s still her boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). “He’s not dead,” she says. “I just can’t see him.”
“Aid will haunt you if you let him,” James tries to reassure her. “Don’t let him.”
In a timely gender shift of how things typically focus in mad-scientist movies, Cecilia—not Adrian, the tech-billionaire founder of a groundbreaking optics company—is the cog at the very center of this one, the nexus of its story. And Moss makes you feel every flayed ounce of her frustration, brokenness and pain, especially when no one will believe that Adrian can still be stalking her, sight unseen.
After all, there’s an urn containing his ashes in the office of his loathsome lawyer brother (Michael Dorman).
It’s no spoiler to say that things go from bad to worse, as the “invisible man” makes Cecilia’s life unbearable, pushing her to the breaking point—and Whannell ratchets up the tension scene by scene, showing off the chops he fine-tuned collaborating with horror maestro James Wan on the Saw and Insidious franchises, and then directing Upgrade (2018), an under-appreciated, futuristic sci-fi action thriller.
And I won’t reveal any of the straight-up shocker-surprises and twists, but there are a couple of doozies, especially as Cecelia learns she’s going to have to take matters into her own hands, and then does. It’s a monster movie for the #MeToo movement, a creep show about toxic masculinity and how abused women are often told they’re crazy—and to blame for their own scars, both inside and out. It’s a fine-tuned freak-out with a timely twist, gender-flipped in perfect synch and step with the real-world parade of women who are just now, finally, getting their day in court—and their vindication—with disgraced movie magnate Harvey Weinstein.
Pay close attention to everything you see on screen, because it all pays off in the end.
With a less-is-more filmmaking approach, director Whannell gets maximum jolt-age out of minimum effects, relying instead on the primal fear of the unknown—and the power of the unseen. There are some bust-up, knock-about fight scenes with the invisible assailant, including one in which he impressively dispatches an entire hall full of security guards.
James’ nickname for Cecelia is “C,” which sounds, of course, like “see.” It’s a subtle little inverted twist on what she can’t do—see what’s watching her, what’s tormenting her. And no one else can see it, either. And seeing, after all, is believing.
Cecelia and Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man make for a gripping golly-whopper psycho-thriller of a horror show, one in which a woman finally makes everyone else “see”—and believe—what’s she’s known, and felt and experienced, all along. Ain’t it the truth?