The Invisible Man, directed by Leigh Whannell, is a near-perfect film. With delicate and intentional filmmaking and screenwriting, Whannell should be compared not only to genre filmmakers like John Carpenter and Paul Verhoeven but also to a cinematic “master” like Christopher Nolan. It is proof that making a film on a pre-existing property doesn’t mean filmmakers have to churn out bland, safe entertainment. With practical plotting, startling directing, and Elisabeth Moss’s absolutely stunning performance, The Invisible Man isn’t just a great remake. It isn’t just great genre filmmaking. It is every bit as bold a cinematic statement as Christopher Nolan made with The Dark Knight, if not even more so. It sets a new standard that suspense horror remakes will be trying to match for years.
Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) barely escapes from her boyfriend Adrian Griffith’s (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) seaside estate. It required her drugging Adrian, carefully avoiding his myriad of security devices, and even surviving a sudden attack. For the past few years, Cecilia had been controlled by ever-escalating methods. Who she talked to. What she ate. Even seemingly what she was allowed to think. Cecilia finds refuge in her friend James’s (Aldis Hodge) house. Even though James is a strong, calm, and confident police officer, that isn’t enough to make Cecilia feel protected. She is afraid to go outside. She wears only sneakers and sweats as if she knows she will need to run away from harm at a moment’s notice. Adrian, apparently beleaguered by Cecilia slipping away, commits suicide. He leaves his fortune to her and, in what appears to be his final act of control, rations the sum out over the course of months and years. As Cecilia attempts to redefine herself and her life away from Adrian’s restraints, she still can’t shake the feeling that her ex is still out there somewhere, watching and cornering her.
Leigh Whannell has done the impossible. He has created a horror remake that is as scary as it is crowd-pleasing, as suspenseful as it is delicately constructed, as well-acted as it is presented. In 2018, Whannell proved that he was this generation’s John Carpenter with Upgrade. As entertaining as that film was, Whannell’s directing here is on an entirely different level. Whannell films his scenes of terror of a distance in wide shots. Unlike almost any other film, it is the negative space that is most frightening. Much like in Upgrade, Whannell’s cinematic influences are clear. Unlike that film though, these influences are much more of an accent than they are a mask. Invisible Man is reminiscent of such genre-defining classics as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, or even The Matrix. Somehow, it never feels derivative. Unlike Nolan’s nods and allusions to Kubrick, Whannell isn’t trying to show audiences how he is recreated and filter a story with similar genre pictures. He is pushing the genre to new brave and inventive heights. In time, The Invisible Man will be studied as what is possible in suspense horror filmmaking.
It should come as no surprise that Elisabeth Moss’s performance is fantastic. Last year’s Her Smell should have catapulted to the next echelon of actors in the film as The Handmaid’s Tale did to her prestige on television. Cecilia could have been a role defined by darting eyes, crying, and startled screaming. It also could be yet another “strong female character” like Alien’s Ellen Ripley or Terminator’s Sarah Connor, showing bravery and strength in a similar “pre-approved” fashion. Moss’s Cecilia embodies none of these archetypes. She is weary and beaten down without being weak. She is crafty and quick-thinking without being superhuman. Moss accomplishes so much with the smallest flourish of emotions. When Cecilia is hit on during a job interview, there is a minute, almost imperceptible look of defeat. We see that Adrian’s mistreatment has programmed her how to appease men in power when they belittling her, but that she is in the process of reprogramming her own self. A lesser performance would have had Cecilia sigh deeply and look away, telegraphing to the audience how similar this interaction is to what she has gone through before. Instead, we get a fragile yet hopeful full-blooded character and performance. Moss feels as at home with moments of depression as she does moments of action. It is one of the bravest performances we’ve seen in the suspense-horror genre in quite some time.
Thanks to Whannell’s fantastic script and expert casting, the small but crucial supporting performers are nothing short of wonderful. The people around Cecilia aren’t hollow plot devices to either aid her or to get picked off. They feel like real multi-dimensional people, a complete anomaly in the suspense genre. Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid are both great as the father and daughter who attempt to help Cecilia in her recovery. Even in moments of uncertainty or fear, both Hodge and Reid are given so much respect by this story. There is no knee-jerk reaction to be seen. No artificial rendering of “big, strong cop” or “teenage daughter.” Even though we never really get into the backstory of either character, we care about them because Cecilia and the story itself care about them. We need to see more of Hodge and Reid in the future.
The Invisible Man deserves to be seen, not only because it is an entertaining film that anyone (even horror detractors) will love. It should be seen to prove to audiences that horror directors respect them and that they are able to create something practical and frightening without being manipulative and loud. Whannell and Moss have made a special film that hopefully will be felt in all genre pictures that come after it.