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“The Invisible Man” Is As Smart As Is It Scary

Finding the next great horror movie within a classic Universal monster? Especially after the quick collapse of the Dark Universe, that wouldn’t have seemed incredibly likely, even just a year or so ago. However, in Blumhouse we trust. In the hands of filmmaker Leigh Whannell and producer Jason Blum, The Invisible Man manages to surprise in all of the best ways. Notably, Whannell not just makes this a timely tale about believing women, he employs one of the best actresses in the business with Elisabeth Moss. That choice alone goes a long way, but almost every single element here works far better than expected. In fact, this may well be the best film of the year so far. Without question, it’s in the top two or three, representing the next fright flick that should not only be a huge hit, but deserves awards attention as well.

This film is a modern retelling of the classic Universal character, though with an important spin/twist. Here, instead, we’re focused on someone who’s tormented by an invisible figure. That person is Cecilia Kass (Moss), first seen planning an escape from her abusive boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Having long planned this, she’s just barely able to evade his clutches, leaving their secluded mansion and racing away with her sister Alice (Harriet Dyer). A few weeks later, she’s recovering slowly from her trauma at the home of her detective friend James (Aldis Hodge). James and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid) provide a support system, though Cecilia still worries that Adrian, a rich inventor, has the means to track her down. Then, Alice arrives to inform her that Adrian has taken his own life. Meeting with Adrian’s brother Tom (Michael Dorman), they learn that she’s also set to inherit $5 million. Soon, however, things don’t appear right. Cecilia feels Adrian around her, quickly deducing that he’s somehow faked his own death and become invisible. No one believes her, but in short order Adrian begins tormenting her, loosening her grip on reality. As she tries to figure out what he wants, and why, her loved ones question if she’s merely going insane. The gaslighting is just the start, though the less you know going in, the better. Whannell writes and directs, with supporting players including Nash Edgerton, Amali Golden, Benedict Hardie, and more. Stefan Duscio handles the cinematography, while the score is by Benjamin Wallfisch.

Elisabeth Moss deserves Academy Award consideration for her work here. Often acting alone on the screen, she goes through a range of trauma that’s positively astounding. In many ways, the movie itself is at its best when just focusing on her mental state, independent of the horror element. Moss portrays a woman gaslit for so long, when a supernatural element is introduced, the feelings are all too familiar to her. This grounds a flick that otherwise could have gotten ridiculous, especially in its more science fiction/horror elements. Instead, we have something that actually feels real, terrifyingly so.

The Invisible Man is not just the first great horror film of 2020, it’s overall a riveting drama. As much a look at gaslighting and trauma as it is a vehicle for a classic Universal monster, this is top notch entertainment. Moss is at her best, while Leigh Whannell commits to the seriousness of the situation, while still throwing in a number of effective jump scares. Moreover, there’s at least one legitimately shocking moment, which you surely won’t see coming (no pun intended). In addition to Moss, Aldis Hodge is terrific as well, giving the flick an important supporting player. Factor in Benjamin Wallfisch’s haunting score, as well as Stefan Duscio’s impressive cinematography (the in camera effects work here is wonderful), and you have a technically seamless work that engages on all levels.

Oscar rarely pays attention to horror, but it’s warranted here. The movie is that good. Moss especially should be remembered in the Best Actress race. Longer shots include Best Cinematography and Best Original Score, though both are more than deserving. Kudos to Whannell and company for making this such a complete film. It would have been too easy just to make a quick cash grab (and we can all shudder to think about what Johnny Depp and his Dark Universe version would have been like), but this a home run all the way.

This weekend, audiences, both genre and regular, are in for a treat when The Invisible Man opens. This is, quite possibly, the best movie of the year so far. 2020 may be off to an iffy start, but this effort is here to save the day. Make sure you see it (last time I’ll do that, I promise), as Blum, Moss, and Whannell have cooked up something timely, unique, and, believe it or not, essential.

Be sure to check out The Invisible Man, in theaters everywhere on Friday!

(Photos courtesy of Universal)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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