After my last disastrous trip to the cinema to see the Harley Quinn movie, I had little hope that my latest sojourn to the downtown Livermore multiplex would yield anything but another two hours of my life down the drain.
That all changed about 30 seconds into Leigh Whannell’s “The Invisible Man,” the latest reimagining of H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel of the same name. The film takes the basic premise of the Wells story, a scientist employing the study optics to make his body either absorb or reflect light and using this ability to commit violence but spins it into what is essentially a very timely story of gaslighting and stalking in the era of Me Too.
More importantly, however, it’s a movie that rather refreshingly remembers that film is, above all, a visual medium and stories on the silver screen are at their best when they show you a story, not tell it.
Elisabeth Moss stars as Cecilia “Cee” Kass who flees her sociopathic and abusing scientist boyfriend, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who some may remember as Luke Crain from Netflix’s “Haunting of Hill House”) in the film’s opening moments. Adrian commits suicide in the wake of Cecilia escaping his clutches, or so it seems.
Cecilia is initially relieved, until events in her life begin to spiral out of control with Adrian’s invisible hand guiding events.
Since no one can see him, the rest of the characters assume Cecilia is losing her mind.
The opening of the film sets the tone immediately. The first five minutes are nearly wordless, but set up the dramatic arc of the movie through wholly visual means.
The movie begins on a note of pure tension and plays off of the audience’s built-in knowledge of the premise to establish the threat of an omnipresent Adrian early, and slowly, expertly ramps up the stakes — and never lets up.
Moss deserves high praise for this role, if anything for the sheer fact that she is in every single scene of the film. In addition to carrying the entire runtime, she hits all the right notes of the character — traumatized, driven mad by fear but also strong and resolute. Moss, who has been a favorite of mine since her days as Sterling Cooper copywriter Peggy Olson
on AMC’s “Mad Men” proves once again that she is one of the most likable, talented presences on American screens today, and she carries every second of this film.
Whannell, fresh of the critical success of 2018’s sci-fi action film “Upgrade” (a film that was fun, unique and looked great but was also kind of dumb and definitely overrated) really grows as a filmmaker here.
It is a great example of a filmmaker having the confidence and respect for the audience’s intelligence to use the cinematic elements of camera and music (the pounding and intense score is another strong point) to show-and-not-tell the audience what story he is presenting.
When it comes to the issues of gaslighting and not believing women present throughout the narrative, as is the case with so many modern “issues” movies, one might expect a character in the film to use these terms in the dialogue as a big, proverbial neon-sign saying “this is what the movie is about.”
Those themes resonate without ever being made explicit.
This is one of the still-young 2020’s first good movies.
Travis Danner is the arts and entertainment editor and social media mentor for The Express. Follow him @travydoesdallas.