The Invisible Man
Co-written and directed by Leigh Whannell. Starring Elisabeth Moss and Aldis Hodge. Plugs: Nike. Nearest: Cottonwood
The Invisible Man begins as Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) escapes from her abusive (and apparently brilliant, fabulously wealthy inventor) partner Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in the dead of night, rescued from a hilltop mansion by her sister and their friend, a police officer.
Even though she’s safe she still fears that he may come after her. She’s relieved by the news that he killed himself, but after a series of unexplained experiences being stalked by something invisible, she comes to realize that he’s still alive.
I’m giving nothing away (at least not to anyone who’s seen the trailer, or even the title of the film) by revealing that Adrian has indeed found a way to become invisible and stalk Cecelia after faking his death. Audiences will pretty quickly grasp this, which means that there’s no suspense or mystery about whether or not she’s hallucinating her encounters with him, unlike in psychological thrillers such as Jacob’s Ladder or Memento. Which is fine, but it leaves the plot to be driven by details. These are filled in when Adrian’s shifty lawyer brother notifies Cecelia that she’s inherited $5 million, contingent upon certain conditions....
It’s an intriguing setup that fizzles as implausibilities pile up. The plot device of framing Cecilia for actions —and crimes— she didn’t commit is overdone and, at a certain point, nonsensical. When seemingly alone with her friend’s daughter, invisible Adrian punches the daughter, who immediately blames Cecelia. But could she really not tell the difference between being hit by some unseen force and being attacked, for no reason, by her female friend sitting across the room from her?
I was left wondering what Adrian is doing when he’s not stalking Cecelia. He’s supposedly dead, so he can’t be in contact with anyone without revealing his secret; where’s he getting his food and money? How’s he driving from place to place in public?
In some other disguise? As himself? Or letting passerby think it’s a self-driving car —without occupants? At one point he’s revealed to have a cell phone, long after his death.
Who’s he calling? Why is his cell phone still activated?
There are other bafflers as well: If Cecelia really wants to know whether anyone invisible is anywhere near her, she could just get a thermal camera, available online for under $200. This would register variations in temperature, revealing an outline of any invisible human body. It’s a bit odd that the otherwise resourceful woman doesn’t think of this.
Cecelia is framed for a murder —in fact several of them— but for unexplained reasons never sees a day in jail or court.
If plot holes ultimately sink The Invisible Man, at least it’s redeemed by several interesting twists and suspenseful direction. In the days before nifty computer-generated special effects (which this version has plenty of), the Invisible Man was seen when wrapped in bandages. As the bandages unraveled, his invisibility was revealed. This Invisible Man unravels in much the same way, starting out as a tight, clever thriller but eventually becomes so silly and scattered that it’s hard to take seriously.
Though the title refers to Adrian, Cecelia is just about paper thin. We know nothing about her life or background except as briefly sketched out in exposition —for example it’s not clear whether she’s employed or confined to a gorgeous, high-tech home that seems to have invisible staff. Elisabeth Moss is good in the role, but is hobbled by the script. To her credit, writer/director Leigh Whannell knows how to build visual suspense far better than she does literary suspense. She frames the shots well, using negative space to draw the eye to what’s not there, what Cecelia isn’t seeing.
The Invisible Man has always been the most cerebral of the classic monsters. Vampires, Frankenstein’s monster, and werewolves are all fine, but the premise of an ordinary person who can turn invisible at will has the potential to explore deeper themes about privacy, identity and more. The Invisible Man was due for a remake, but unfortunately this B-movie version is less interested in the potential of invisibility than in lurching between scares, with plenty of bullets and bodies.