The Invisible Man (2020) dir. Leigh Whannell, clocks in at just over two hours- an hour more than necessary considering the extremely straight-forward storyline.
Cecilia (played by Emmy and Golden Globe award winner, Elisabeth Moss) lives in constant fear of her abusive, interntationally-renowned scientist boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), even after his unexpected suicide. Shortly after learning of his death, Cecilia begins to notice strange occurrences around her new living situation, as if she is being haunted. However, what is stalking her is more than your average run of the mill ghost, but Adrian in an invisibility suit of his own creation.
Despite the fact the movie claims little connection to the H.G. Wells’s novel that inspired its name, general plot, and characters, this is not the first, nor the last Blockbuster to try its hand at the classic story (The Invisible Woman, directed by Elizabeth Banks, is scheduled for release sometime in the near future). Film critic for The New York Times, Manohla Dargis describes the project as “a scary update on the H.G. Wells classic that trades science-fiction shivers for #MeToo horror”, an accurate statement regarding The Invisible Man’s underlying, but nevertheless deeply embedded theme of female empowerment and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Similarly to real-life domestic violence situations, Cecilia is intentionally trying to sabotage any chance she has of living without him. She also struggles to convince her loved ones that Adrian is still alive. The premise is certainly uncomfortable, but audience members are not offered the time to witness Adrian’s mistreatment of the protagonist, a fatal mistake to the movie’s effectiveness as a thriller. Viewers only see his abuse in his natural form for less than ten minutes at the beginning of the film; there is no opportunity for suspense to grow based upon the antagonist’s natural evilness. For someone who has experienced a relationship resembling the one depicted in this film, lingering emotions from their own lives undoubtedly influence the way in which they perceive the mistreatment on screen.
As for the lack of character development for even the major characters, there is no excuse considering the length of the film, clocking in at just over two hours. Understandably, writers may have avoided going into detail about Adrian, for instance, in favor of focusing on the heroic story of a young woman fighting back against her constant tormenter. However, this does not work well for striking fear in the audience. If this were a film that portrayed itself as a tale of survival, then this near omission of the antagonist’s more personal characteristics, but as a science fiction flick does not work. Oddly enough, we are also not offered much about Cecilia herself; her aspirations, aside from escaping and eventually destroying Adrian once and for all when his invisible antics begin, are uncertain, and her past is nearly a blank slate. We do get to learn more about her based off of her relationship with her sister, her good friend who is housing her, and his daughter, but what is left of the protagonist’s soul after her years under Adrian’s thumb is not depicted.
On a more positive note, what The Invisible Man lacks in character development, and by an extension, less than engrossing plot, it begins to make up for in stunning visuals. The opening scene possesses a dreamlike atmosphere, one that is somehow simultaneously alert yet sleepy. The taupe colored lightning mimics the dim light of the wee-hours of the morning, and inspires a sense of urgency despite the action taking place early in the morning. In fact, the entire film is filtered through a moody, almost greyscale; the subject matter is dark, as well the literal lighting and color scheme for the majority of its duration. The film features cinematographic choices similar to that of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series for not only the dim lighting, but also for its approach to depicting Adrian when his invisibility suit becomes visible. Instead of designing his disguise to look strange or misshapen when exposed to the audience (à la the original film adaptation of the novel) more closely resembles something along the lines of Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Fans of the 1933 version may find this departure from the classic portrayal of the Invisible Man disappointing, the movie’s choice to opt out of the campy aesthetics acts as a nod towards the modern-obsession with superhero media - except this time, the hero uses nothing but her quick wit and determination in order to defeat the villain.
The Invisible Man, while a valiant effort to retell a classic science fiction tale with a modern feminist twist, does not entirely suceed in its efforts as a thriller for its lake of plot and character depth. For a film that relies so heavily on a young abuse victim’s desire for help and validation, opportunities for further psychological tension between the audience and the protagonist are passed by in favor of following a more palatable action-style blueprint.