As a genre, horror seems to continually evolve. Audiences change while tastes develop, and what frightens the mainstream movie going public is never quite the same. In recent years, horror had been undergoing a bit of a renaissance as young filmmakers show that scary movies can have more than flash and gore, they can have a story and meaning too. As it hits theaters this week, does the latest Universal horror entry The Invisible Man stand with these formidable movies? Or is this one closer to the studios last attempt to mine it’s golden horror past? Read on.
The Invisible Man follows Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), a young woman desperately trying to break free from an abusive relationship with optics billionaire Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). It seems like she’s free when she learns he committed suicide; however, when she’s soon haunted by an unseen force, she begins to wonder if everything is really as it seems. Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid and Michael Dorman co-stars. Leigh Whannell directs the film from his own script.
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It goes without saying that Elisabeth Moss is a treasure and we don’t deserve her. She’s one of the best performers working on film and television today, bringing an almost unparalleled ability to convey the intense depth in her characters. In her hands, Cecilia is a complicated and vulnerable woman. However, in true Mossian form, despite all her trauma and all the struggles, she shows the inherent power within her characters. Cecilia is flawed, she is messy, but she can pull herself out of even the worst situation.
Meanwhile, director Leigh Whannell established himself in the horror genre over the last two decades as an actor and sometimes writer in movies like Saw, Cooties and the Insidious franchise; however he’s only recently jumped into directing with 2015’s Insidious: Chapter 3. In his work on this film, the relative newcomer behind the camera shows himself to be a rapidly rising talent.
Horror is such an incredibly tricky genre because it is so completely subjective. What someone finds pants-wettingly terrifying, someone else might find laughingly lame. Jumping into The Invisible Man, Whannell employs a terrifyingly quiet aesthetic, a far cry from the viseral and graphic nature of some of his earlier work, and he absolutely shines in his subtle, but carefully crafted direction.
In fact, the terror in The Invisible Man deeply rooted in subtlety. Sometimes what you can’t see is far more frightening than anything else. He leaves audiences stewing in uncomfortable silences, making the smart decision to align the audience with Cecilia’s perspective, crafting uneasiness in what she can’t see. Whannell uses solid haunted house tropes ranging from sounds you can’t explain, to objects falling without an apparent source, and even at one point, a breath in the frosty night air. This isn’t to say that movie isn’t afraid to get graphic, but it is used to intensify the horror, rather than for mere shock value.
Meanwhile, Whannell’s script brings a sensitive and culturally relevant study on toxic and abusive relationships. The movie doesn’t take this sensitive subject and make it glorified fodder for drama. Rather, in a well-studied partnership with Elisabeth Moss, it becomes clear Whannell isn’t simply a horror movie. He’s finding the horror in the Celia’s very real situation. As the story plays out, it becomes clear just how isolated Cecilia has become at Adrian’s hands. As her situation spirals out of control she’s completely alone. Her family and her friends can’t understand and quite literally can’t see what she’s going through- and this is exactly what Adrian (and abusive partners) want and it’s terrifying.
As such, in the movie’s development of Cecila’s trauma, The Invisible Man really emerges as a metaphor for an abusive relationship. The behavior of the victim is the only thing under scrutiny– the abuser is The Invisible Man. So, while the movie is a work of supernatural horror, the terror is very rooted in reality.
Have no fear, The Invisible Man steps far, far away from Universal’s last debacle involving the studios desire to reboot it’s classic monster faire. The Invisible Man is not only a tense and frightening thriller, but it makes a powerful statement. Horror fans, particularly those into the work of Jordan Peele should find a lot to like with this one.
The Invisible Man is now playing in theaters around the country.