Leigh Whannell is arguably one of the most underrated creative minds in the horror genre. Being a longtime partner of filmmaker James Wan, Whannell started his career as a writer. The two of them would collaborate and spawn the Saw and Insidious franchises. He finally made his directorial debut with Insidious: Chapter 3, and followed that up in 2018 with the low budget action/body-horror film Upgrade. The success of this film of course meant that Whannell would be handed the keys to the next big remake that was due, and has now brought us a new take on The Invisible Man. Instead of trying to modernize the odd H. G. Wells novel, Whannell takes the concept implied from the title and completely recontextualizes it.
The opening scene of the film shows Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) sneaking out of her home and running away from an abusive relationship. After her abusive ex-boyfriend Adrien commits suicide, she thinks that she has truly escaped the life she was once trapped in. After seemingly supernatural shenanigans begin to occur, Cecilia begins to suspect that Adrien may not have exited this mortal coil. Moss is the highlight of the film, able to portray a vulnerable woman desperate to rebuild her life without seeming like a helpless victim with no drive. Cecilia is a strong character that goes through a lot as she attempts to unravel the mystery, and Moss’s multifaceted performance is key to the film’s success. Not to be ignored is the performance of Aldis Hodge, who manages to strike an important balance between skepticism and care as Cecilia continues to go down the rabbit hole.
Whannell’s technique of kinetic camerawork suits this film incredibly well. The placement of the camera as well as its motion conveys all sorts of things to the viewer. When the film gets violent, the camera moves in a perfect synergy with the motion of the characters and creates a visceral feel that still manages to be cohesive to the eye, unlike the Saw sequels’ use of rapid fire editing to attempt to confuse the audience more than disturb or shock. Often times the film gets quiet, with just enough negative space to tease the viewer with something hiding in a corner, but not enough to make you point to a location of a potentially obvious jumpscare. A healthy dose of POV shots also assists Whannell’s attempts to put the viewer in the shoes of Cecilia, the feeling of being watched but being unsure of where or how. Cinematographer Stefan Duscio fires on all cylinders to create effective horror sequences, and there’s rarely a moment where the film misses a step in that regard.
Here we have a perfect blend of low budget and high budget filmmaking. Whannell manages to make a shot of an empty chair feel unsettling to look at, leading the audience on and creating tense sequences while only having to show a little bit to make an effective scare. The ways that Cecilia goes about trying to expose her translucent tormentor are always compelling to watch, which leads to a long sequence ending in one of the best jumpscares since It.
The film has a lot on its mind about Cecilia’s pain. She feels isolated from the very beginning as she’s barely able to leave the house that she has found shelter in after her escape. Her brother-in-law is a major character here, and there’s a wonderful scene early on with him revealing some of the trauma that he has suffered at Adrien’s hands, the two of them coming to what seems to be a mutual understanding. A later scene with Aldis Hodge also provides a heartbreaking yet subdued revelation of a survivor’s guilt. The way that the protagonist’s trauma is explored is an important reason why the film works so well, as themes of shared trauma, paranoia, and obsession are all brought to light. It’s a film that manages to have all of these things without feeling preachy, asking the audience to accept that these are things that exist and affect many people. It’s a bold movie with bold ideas, and a remake of a classic science fiction film is the best place to insert brave and modern ideas.
I can see some audiences being divided on the ending of the film, but I thought that it provided an interesting dichotomy that I won’t go any further into for spoiler reasons. Besides a twist that takes away the effect of one of the more human moments in the film, The Invisible Man is an absolute triumph, and I see it becoming an instant classic for the genre.