Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Invisible Man


Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) escapes from her abusive rich scientist boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and holes up with her friends (Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid) in their house in abject terror. She's sure he'll find her; he said she could never leave him. Finally, her sister (Harriet Dyer) brings the news that Adrian has killed himself, and everything's okay now. Tentatively, she starts to feel more comfortable. But why does she still feel like she's being watched? Slowly she discovers the truth; Adrian isn't dead, he's just invisible. Either that, or she's crazy!

This modern re-imagining comes from Leigh Whannell, the writer/director of Upgrade.

I loved Upgrade and was hoping The Invisible Man would be a similar, self-contained and lean thriller. It's not, but it doesn't totally fail to produce a palpable style of its own either. That being said, cleaner plotting could have only been an improvement. There are several threads that I waited to get answers on that were simply ignored--as if I wasn't supposed to expect explanations at all. I was out of sync with the movie's direction. And that came through with Cecilia's decisions sometimes, too. The movie is good to not expound on her every inner thought, but she often did things where her reasoning was foreign to me. It took the movie in unexpected directions, but also left me playing catch-up more than once.

The good comes directly from the premise. A stalking ex with bad intentions that the heroine literally cannot see. The best scenes are the ones where you know he's there--somewhere!--but cannot tell where. These scenes play like horror movie that have slow rising tension that leads to a chilling moment, and one step closer to breaking for the protagonist. And seeing that from what's technically a science fiction thriller is a pleasantly unique experience. I wish more of the film had been like that, because when the movie is less restrained, it leaps over into ridiculous territory for a frustrating decline of smarts and quality. 

We're told that Adrian is a genius, but the way he turns Cecilia's sister and friends against her is so mind-bogglingly simple that it belongs in A Cinderella Story 7: A Disney Channel Original, not movies with rational adults as characters. This movie sacrifices reason and the semblance of reality to heighten the stakes and tension, but for me, it deflated my investment in the story. What I wound up enjoying instead was the technical aspects of the film. Style, the building of tension, acting, and the unique appeal of the scenes where evidence the invisible man is present. Even that decays; but ultimately the final act sets everything back on track and closes the film out in a concise way, in line with the best of the film.

I liked when the camera would show you all this extra space like this and ask that you look for what's not there. 

It ended so well that I almost forgot about all the threads I wanted answers for but wound up being skimmed-over plot holes. I wouldn't mind so much, but several of the unanswered questions are asked by the movie itself. Whether it was meant to be tidy or not, the messiness was a distraction to me, and a detriment to the film. Yet Cecilia is a good character and Moss plays her engagingly, on the line between sure and insane. The insanity seeps over to the audience with strong visual design, and several well-crafted moments. In short, the movie delivers what it promises--just not 100% of the time. And you'd think a film that has cracked the code to invisibility would be more adept at hiding its flaws. 

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