'The Invisible Man' brings a high-tech stalker twist to an old formula
Posted February 27, 2020 12:36 p.m. EST
CNN — Critics occasionally go overboard with metaphors, but there's no escaping the "Believe the women" undercurrents in "The Invisible Man," which transforms invisibility into the ultimate tool of an abusive, high-tech modern stalker. That approach conjures lots of creepiness, thanks foremost to star Elisabeth Moss, but this is one of those movies that works better the less time one spends sweating the details.
Dreamt up by H.G. Wells at the end of the 19th Century, "The Invisible Man" has a long screen history and is considered part of Universal's "monsters" stable, even if he's not a perfect fit with the rest of that ghoulish gang. Mostly, the character has been an excuse for actors with great voices (Claude Rains, Vincent Price) to star in movies where they go largely unseen, with madness as a byproduct of the elixir that gives them this fantastic power.
Here, the madness is already baked in, as we meet Moss' Cecelia mounting an elaborate escape from the hilltop palace that she shares with her boyfriend, suggesting that things were really, really bad between them.
Terrified that he'll find her, with help from her slightly estranged sister (Harriet Dyer), Cecelia finds refuge with a cop (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter (Storm Reid), while still exhibiting the jittery qualities of someone recovering from genuine trauma.
Soon enough, she learns that her ex has committed suicide, which should be liberating. But that's when the strangeness ensues, with those creaky sounds and indications that someone has been inside the house.
Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, whose credits include the "Saw" and "Insidious" franchises, the movie establishes a genuine sense of terror and paranoia in Cecelia's plight. That's because the stalker not only endeavors to cause her to doubt her own sanity, but to alienate and isolate her from those closest to her.
Moss, whose gift for speaking volumes with purposeful stares is well-documented on "The Handmaid's Tale," perfectly captures the sense of invasion Cecelia feels, and at first, helplessness. Her growing strength, in the face of such an overwhelming threat, is the movie's most empowering element.
At the same time, there's something almost perverse about an invention as staggering as this -- given the abundant possibilities -- being put to use in the service of such a specific campaign to torment one individual, as opposed to some diabolical master plan.
Nor does it help that the movie is fuzzy -- one hesitates to say opaque -- about most of the mechanics behind the scheme, which hold up well enough while the suspense is building but begin falling apart, gradually, down the closing stretch.
"The Invisible Man" marks the latest attempt by horror factory Blumhouse Productions to give a well-known old title a new coat of paint, and even with a few glitches, it certainly works much better than its recent "Fantasy Island" experiment.
Taken on its own terms, "The Invisible Man" is thus worth seeing, or rather not seeing, depending on one's point of view.
"The Invisible Man" premieres Feb. 28 in the US. It's rated R.