sound of angry waves crashing against a rocky shoreline opens Australian
director Leigh Whannell’s adaptation of H. G. Wells beloved sci-fi novel The Invisible Man.
The sheer thud,
bringing with it the reveal of invisible captions containing the film’s title,
establishes a brooding atmosphere that carries deep into the film.
Echoing the sentiment
had by Wells towards the sci-fi genre, Whannell is a director inspired by
intertwining technology with horror. Whannell’s body of work, ranging from his
work on the Saw series to 2018’s Upgrade, exhibit
prevalent themes surrounding surveillance society and the dispossession of
free-will. With The Invisible Man,
Whannell elevates this motif by constructing a timely and topical assessment on
In the dead of night,
Cecilia (powerfully realised by Elisabeth Moss) flees from her abusive
relationship to Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen); a world-renowned
scientist – decorated for his work in optics – whose controlling behaviour is
matched by his immense affluence. Cecilia’s promising efforts to move forward
with her life, rekindling her estranged relationships with sister Alice
(Harriet Dyer) and their childhood-friend-now-convenient-cop James (Aldis
Hodge), become short-lived upon the news of Griffin’s death. Cecilia’s initial
shock soon turns to disbelief following a string of mysterious events, linking
back to Griffin and his lawyer brother Tom (Michael Dorman), that cause Cecilia
to question his passing.
Griffin may (or may
not) be gone in body, but Cecilia has not forgotten his presence.
The mystery behind
Griffin’s death, whether a hoax or a manifestation of Cecilia’s grief, is
empowered by the conventions of genre storytelling. Like any well-told
horror-thriller, The Invisible Man
forces the audience to imagine its own monster, with Cecilia’s belief in
Griffin’s invisible existence doubling-down to expose the manner whereby
society discredits victims of domestic violence. Cecilia’s grief, confused for
mental illness by those near to her, pushes her into isolation; a feat which
Cecilia is convinced has been orchestrated by Griffin as an attempt to control
Whannell utilises jump scares to reveal the abusive experiences had by
Cecilia. The camera doesn’t
so much as observe as it stares; glaring at Cecilia as though she were being
watched. Its effect is to impeccably reveal the bandages behind Griffin’s
possible existence. More than that, Whannell proves himself adept in capturing
tension for extended durations, with the execution of Cecilia’s escape
delivered with a heart-pounding intensity that is sure to shroud the cinema in
a cautious silence. However, the film is not without some flat moments, with
Cecilia’s return to particular locations and depictions of violence feeling
ought to be celebrated for its boldness, with few filmmakers willing to stir
the pot – and transcend genre – as ambitiously as the Upgrade filmmaker has. That being said, it is when Whannell decides
to hastily change up the tone does The
Invisible Man feel opaque. The details and events behind this swift
change-up are better left unsaid. However, its impact is felt from midway
onwards when The Invisible Man moves
past being a compelling thinkpiece and verges on boofhead territory. The wider
implication of this change felt in the production elements, with the film’s
sound design and camera positioning, carrying the trepidation of the film
thanks to the absence of visual, transforming from atmospheric and evocative to
sounding like a scene from Transformers.
Nevertheless, we have
our first Oscar contender for 2020, with Benjamin Wallfisch’s atmospheric score
humming with a striking intensity that resembles the powerful sounds made by a
plane mid take-off.
While H. G. Wells
titular mad scientist plays a crucial component in Whannell’s modern-day
retelling of The Invisible Man, it is
the invisible suffering worn by victims of domestic violence that bears the
heaviest emotional weight. Whannell, proving himself a director willing to shake
things up, crafts a respectable and important look at moving forward from
trauma, the dire state of societies domestic violence issue, and the importance
of believing women.
Director: Leigh Whannell
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid
Writer: Leigh Whannell, (based on the novel The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells)
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