Note: This review contains discussion regarding sexual violence and abuse and addresses some of this film’s plot points
First thing’s first; H.G. Wells this is not.
Those hoping for a dose of classical science fiction or the Saw creator’s riposte to Universal’s halted Dark Universe will remain wanting.
Leigh Whannell, fresh off career-high Upgrade, here directs Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia who, having recently escaped from an abusive former partner, learns that he has died, only to surmise that the former world optics expert has rendered himself an invisible presence in her home.
A very modern version of the classic myth, even more traditional is Whannell’s archetypical rendering of this monster that may too graciously endear The Invisible Man to many a screenwriting class. An unknown entity is apparently lurking and havoc arises, our heroine sets out to challenge the monster and ultimately confrontation ensues. The three-act form is not unfamiliar; think Jaws, The Hobbit, half of Doctor Who, Beowulf; you get the idea.
The style befitting this particular narrative moreover, it has become a welcome trend in recent prominent pictures depicting abuse to focus on the impact of these actions rather than the abuse itself or the abuser. The emphasis on Cecilia rather than Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) being an excessive visual accompaniment an apparent function of this particular story, irrespective the direction taken is in this regard a more considered approach than we might typically see in Hollywood fare.
On a related matter, the entire film can very well be read as a commentary on the likes of the #MeToo movement and the push to believe women who outline instances of assault, abuse and/or harassment. When viewed as a whole The Invisible Man overly signifies the fallacy in not taking such assertions seriously and/or dismissing them, yet significantly the film does not pursue this direction exclusively; there being one sequence where a central female character claims she is assaulted by an individual when we and another character, who too suffers as result of this action, know that this is very far from the case.
Importantly, and to the film’s credit, The Invisible Man is also that rare example of a Hollywood picture (filmed in Sydney) where a female character, rather than a male character, takes action in response to acts of violence done unto others rather than this being the function of a central male figure. This being all too atypically the case, as it is overly common for male characters rather than the female character(s) most greatly affected to be at the centre of a revenge narrative following an act of violence against a woman or women, The Invisible Man has not taken this direction; putting Moss’ Cecilia front and centre.
Having said this, an implied sexual assault in this film is, in ill-considered fashion (the instance being evidently intended to further audiences’ urge for a revenge-driven narrative with Ceclia at the helm), used as a plot device in the circumstance where the motivation of the main character has already been well established. To be clear, this author will not criticise any story choice provided proper attention is paid to its consequence; neglecting to do so in this particular narrative having the effect of emphasising the assault rather than as is so important and necessary its consequence, as the film so well managed in its first act. This chosen direction would have been better handled had the creatives spent the necessary time detailing the impact on Cecilia’s psychological, emotional and physical state at this juncture as it had earlier as regards the exploration of her condition following her escape from Adrian and the assaults that impliedly took place before the events of the film commenced.
The question now arises whether such an inclusion and in such a manner renders The Invisible Man an ill-recommendation for viewing, as this author has argued in the past as regards other still very distinct features which have betrayed an (on those occasions more numerous) ill-considered approach to this subject. I would venture otherwise granted the overall aforementioned and better-advised emphasis the film furthers on such matters and given moreover that the event in question is sadly far from the realm of unlikeliness in this setting so as to conversely resemble exploitation; the rub is that some of the execution is lacking. We are indeed treated to some explanation and depiction of the event’s impact on Cecilia, but never nearly so significantly as we are more properly proffered earlier on nor to such an extent as the circumstance and chosen story direction befits.
Viewers and filmmakers can benefit and learn a lot from what this film does right; in the broader context of a well-constituted feature bearing this drawback we also have an opportunity in such stark and apparent contrast with that much else more shrewdly rendered to glean too from what can be done wrong.
The first act, by far the film’s best, benefits, as did Upgrade, from high production values overlaying a straightforward and intrinsically engaging B-movie setup; there being nothing as involving here as a camera panning across a room as we and Cecilia are caused to speculate whether we have company. One of the jump scares in this regard, pertaining to a coat rack and hat, is this film’s but one direct allusion to the Wells classic; a wry nod for genre fans.
The special effects working supremely well as do several graphic action sequences, the film is best buoyed by a reliably excellent performance from Moss, here well-supported by Aldis Hodge and Killing Ground’s Harriet Dyer. It is however Michael Dorman as Adrian’s brother who, in three stand-out sequences, bears the most interesting characterisation that unlike a lot of B-grade familiarities deployed here remains throughout engagingly open to varied interpretations.
Pivoting to Whannell’s B-movie roots in the closing stretches, this would not be a problem but for the about-turn in tone overly signified by the twist ending (not pulled off nearly so well as its equivalent in Upgrade) bearing a noticeably lesser level of internal logic as that which came before.
Another memorable modern speculative thriller from an increasingly eclectic star and Director, we’re here for whatever’s next.
The Invisible Man is in cinemas from February 27 and screens as part of AACTA on March 4 in Melbourne, on March 5 in Sydney and March 12 in Brisbane