I jokingly referred to this as Gaslighting the Movie when I saw the trailer. I’ve been debating, until watching it, how to do a Claude Rains joke, or if someone asks me “Did you see the Invisible Man?” making a crack “of course not, he’s invisible.” This is not the movie to make those jokes. Now, I have no confirmation of this, but this also feels like a movie that might have been shelved for a bit, as part of Universal (the movie’s distributor) and their ill planned (but not ill advised if we’re being honest) attempt at a Dark Universe. There was of course “The Mummy” in 2017 and my undying hatred of it and its ham fisted attempt at a solid launch of this Universe. Dracula Untold back in 2014 which had a shoe horned ending to try to insert it in the DU. Looking back at the classics, we’re only missing a few, Phantom, The Wolf Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Invisible Man.
The character of the Invisible Man first appeared in 1897 with a short story by H.G. Wells. It was further and widely popularized by the 1933 classic produced by Carl Laemmle Jr., directed by James Whale, and staring Claude Raines. The first two names are important because they *WERE* the Universal Monster makers. This movie was so iconic, as many of these were, that it spawned many sequels and other interpretations. I would say one of the more successful and well known attempts at a remake or re-imagining was in 2000 with the Kevin Bacon lead Hollow Man. This iteration introduces the sexual predator aspect, which brings us to our movie tonight.
Trigger Warning – Sexual Predation, Domestic Abuse, Gaslighting
Yeah, no quippy question today. The movie was storied, screenplayed, and directed by Leigh Whannel, who brought us much of this centuries modern horror. He is the writer of Saw, and two sequels, the Dead Silence remake, Insidiious and two sequels, and 2018’s Upgrade; which he also directed. I was not a fan of Upgrade, though many critics and others were. With this one Whannel has left his gore hound and supernatural horror background and continued his exploration of science horror as he did with Upgrade. Ironically, one of the major set pieces here is the same house from that movie. So if you do watch this and watched that – that’s where you’ve seen it before.
Ok, my joke title isn’t. This movie’s opening sequence is probably one of the most anxiety inducing scenes I have seen in an extraordinarily long time. While I myself have never been the victim of physical abuse, I know more than a few people who have and listened to others. I do know Narcissitic types and gaslighting, and other mental and emotional abuse techniques from having them used on me more times than I can count, and probably more than I was aware of if my reaction to this movie is any indication. The first seven to ten minutes of this two hour film are nothing but watching someone escape from their abuser. There’s barely a line of dialogue, the musical queues are light, but the camera control is on point. You watch as this woman, Cecilia Kass (Handmaids Tale Elisabeth Moss) clearly is trying to escape someone she is terrified of. The movie doesn’t waste any time showing you what she went through, or even telling you, it skips to the escape. The tension is real here, or was to me, with it continuing to build even through her actual escape. THEN the movie shows you what she was running from in just a few short seconds.
The rest of the movie plays like this. You spend the entire time watching this woman get broken down -after- she escapes her abuser. After it appears he is dead (not a spoiler, its in the trailer). Watching as someone or something manipulates her world and those around her to make her look more and more irrational to a situation. Full props must go to Ms. Moss here. She plays the descent like Nero played the fiddle. Aldis Hodge (Turn, Underground) and Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time) show up and play it all straight, but are completely overshadowed by Moss.
The tension and anxiety I felt going through the first act and a half of the movie were palpable. Enough that a few times I considered leaving. Not because I was scared, but because the movie made me uncomfortable. There are different kinds of horror, and this type, this type did not need to make the monster invisible to have him be the monster he is. He was all too real a Monster before hand and there are too many people in relationships with such monsters. That’s the power of this movie. Not the method in which he became invisible, or even the fact that he is, its that this kind of evil is real and doesn’t get tied up in a bow in 120 minutes.
If anything the last half of the movie becomes easier to watch, but this is where the plot holes form the largest. While there are a handful in the beginning, and they are significant, the last of them is large enough I could drive the USS Nimitz through it. This is also where IQ’s drop significantly with some of our protagonists. There are important questions that *are not answered* that leave me scratching my head even now.
The Invisible Man is a rather well made modern horror. Easily made on the cheap, with a $9 million budget, production studio Blumhouses MO, the movie can’t help but turn a profit this weekend at the box office. It is well shot, though Whannel did clearly want to get a few “Upgrade” style camera move shots in. I would say a solid quarter of the running time the movie is shot with Moss in a medium shot where you can see her and the entire room she’s in. No one HAS to be there, but her acting and the movie lets you think there is without a single drop of effect. Shots like that pepper through this film and build significant tension that never quite gets released. I would say the movie only even has one actual jump scare in it.
All of that being said…I drove home and was still feeling unclean having watched it. Normally when I write these reviews I listen to music or nothing at all to let me focus on the writing. Anything with actual dialogue can be distracting, but here I had to put on a nice safe horror movie like “You’re Next” to feel better.
Wow, should I watch this?
If any of my trigger warnings were relevant to you. No. No you should not. I am having a hard time recommending this movie. Despite some glaring plotholes, it really is well acted and well shot and does make you feel. You feel her fear, her anxiety, and the tension.
Would you watch it again?
Not for a long time.
I really do not know.
You don’t usually ‘feel’ like this about a movie.
I know. I am a little surprised myself. While the IQ’s dropping and plotholes annoyed me the emotional resonance of the rest of the movie hit hard enough and well enough that I consider it an overall success. Just…its a little too real for my tastes with that opening.
I just can’t shake that people will be entertained by this and not get the horror isn’t the invisibility, its the abuser and the victim no one believes.