From the award winning success of Get Out through to disappointing paint by numbers horror of Ma. Blumhouse Productions has provided a mixed bag of quality and innovation since its launch in 2010. However, nobody could dismiss the shear creativity of the modern horror platform that Blumhouse has created. One that has ensured horror in all its forms has continued to thrive on the cinema screen. And with its latest picture Blumhouse has returned to the socially reflective horror of Get Out. Not only bringing HG Wells The Invisible Man into the 21st Century. But also wrapping the rebirth in an intelligent and truly haunting exploration of domestic violence.
First published in 1897, The Invisible Man has a well deserved place in the history of horror on film. From the 1933 James Whale production of the same name. Through to modern interpretations such as Paul Verhoeven and Claudio Fäh’s The Hollow Man. However, while many films have centred on the scientist who fades in the distance. Few have managed to reflect the true horror laying behind the invisible but present force of an individual. While modern interpretations have often struggled to find a new hook in the narrative of the Victorian creation.
However, by integrating real life horror with the classic themes created by HG Wells. Writer and director Leigh Whannell has managed to create one of the finest horrors Blumhouse have produced since Get Out. Providing us with a film that twists and turns many of the tried and tested Invisible Man productions preceding it. While injecting the narrative with a stark dissection of domestic abuse, manipulation and control. As the invisible man becomes a stalker and controlling ex. Vividly bringing to life the psychological fear and manipulation domestic abuse creates, while combining these themes with mainstream and accessible horror. Ultimately creating a rollercoaster of complex human fears that sear a path into the viewers psyche.
The film opens in the stark surroundings of a luxury house facing the roaring pacific ocean. As Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) flees an abusive long-term relationship with her scientist partner Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Leaving everything she owns in a race against the clock that resembles a prison break. The tension of the escape, coupled with the relief of freedom as she escapes the confines of her own mental imprisonment. Taking refuge with her childhood friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid), in the safety of the San Francisco suburbs. However despite being away from the control and manipulation of her ex. Cecilia’s post traumatic stress haunts her daily life.
Therefore when news of Adrian’s death reaches her, Cecilia finally finds the confidence to stop looking over her shoulder. A new life dawning on the death of her abuser. However, as a mysterious invisible presence begins to haunt Cecilia’s daily life. The truth behind her abusers control and manipulation transcends the boundaries of death, continuing to hold a vice like grip on Cecilia’s mental wellbeing.
The Invisible Man is largely held together by the outstanding performance of Elisabeth Moss. Who holds each scene with a captivating intensity. While encapsulating the fear, oppression and emotional trauma of a victim whose life has been controlled and manipulated. And when this performance is coupled with a cinematic design that echoes Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The Invisible Man stings the viewer with a deep and unsettling truth of domestic violence cases. A truth that many people’s experiences of abuse remain invisible to those around them, hidden under the socially acceptable public face of an abuser. And it’s here that Leigh Whannell’s film is at its most terrifying. As its couples together the hidden terror of abuse with the creeping horror of voyeurism, gaslighting and control.
However, despite a first half of beautifully orchestrated tension and social horror. There is in inherent problem in the finale act, one that many modern horrors struggle to overcome. As the narrative falls into a more simplistic need to conclude the story. And this does in some respects diminish the utter terror of the films slowly built tension. Frustratingly leading me to wish the film had opted to end on a cliffhanger. One that spoke to the complexity of the terror built throughout a remarkable first half.
But despite this weakness, it’s fair to say that The Invisible Man is the first genuine cinematic surprise of 2020. Providing a homage to the genius of Hitchcock, while delivering a truly terrifying journey into the hidden horror of domestic abuse.
Director: Leigh Whannell