Sunday, March 01, 2020

The Invisible Man '20

Oh, crap, I'm going to get more emails and comments about not liking that other version again, aren't I? And it seems like they've just stopped.

At any rate, it's well worth checking this one out in the nice theaters - there was good rumble in the Dolby room at Boston Common along with impressive sound design and a nice, sharp picture. I did wonder about my usual fairly-close-to-the-front seating, because you kind of want to be able to take the whole screen at once in to try and spot anything funky happening in the background, but that wasn't much of an issue here.

The Invisible Man '20

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 February 2020 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, Dolby Cinema DCP)

I don't suppose this sort of thing matters much to other people, but I'm awfully glad that Leigh Whannell went through the effort of making the invisibility stuff (which usually falls apart with four seconds of thought) in his version of The Invisible Man work even though this is absolutely the sort of horror movie that could get away with the whole thing just feeling right and digging into what actually scares people. It's the sort of clever, modern take on the classic Universal horror tales that they should have been looking for with Dark Universe.

Rather than being a wide-ranging story, though, this one is intently focused, opening with Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) taking great care as she leaves the fancy house of her rich boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in the wee hours of the morning, drugging him and climbing over a wall before rendezvousing with sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) on a nearby road. He's been emotionally and physically abusive for years, and even after escaping, Cecilia goes into hiding with Emily's friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Weeks later, word comes that Adrian has committed suicide, his attorney brother Tom (Michael Dorman) informing Cecilia that he has left her a trust. It's nevertheless hard for her to stop being afraid, especially when it seems as though Adrian has somehow turned his work in optics into a way to be near her without anyone seeing.

Reimagining the invisible man as the sort of person one might already worry about being near without noticing is a smart take on the material, not just in terms of cultural relevance but because it shifts the focus from the person that the audience can't see by definition to someone who is liable to have strong emotions on her face at all times. Elisabeth Moss is in every scene of this movie, and right on target as a woman with severe PTSD, always moving with the twitchy affect of someone who never gets enough sleep (most of this movie seems to take place at around 4am). She doubts herself just the right amount and makes the moments when she seems all right just a bit fragile, and spends the rest displaying what it's like to try and get a handle on one's fear - she's scared but seldom paralyzed, not quite assured even as she works to take back control. Moss takes full advantage of how Whannell writes Cecilia as a frightened woman of action.

That combination of horror and action is fast becoming Whannel's specialty, and while I didn't particularly love his previous film Upgrade, I do like how Whannell digs into the same bag of tricks to build the action in the back half of this one. Once it starts, everything is off balance and at odd angles but the camera still leads the eye to right where the impossible violence is going to be, with a driving soundtrack that highlights the science-fictional nature of how it's playing out. It's one of several moments when one can feel the movie click into a new gear, from the time an increase in the bass on the soundtrack says to start searching corners for odd motion to when it looks like Whannell has written himself into a box.

Which, to be honest, he kind of has, and he doesn't always find his way out: For every moment where Cecilia is more clever than the average horror heroine, there's one where her tormentors seems dumber, even considering how invisibility may create hubris. Much of the last act feels like he's consciously given up on making sense to reflect how someone in Cecilia's situation just can't know some things for sure, and while that resonates with how she can't truly ever feel safe or in control, the mix of clever and sloppy doesn't always highlight the former. It leads to a final scene that feels as much like a tease for a sequel or even a Dark Universe tie-in than even an uncomfortable resolution.

It still works, though, because even when this Invisible Man is messy, it's got something cool to put on screen and great work by Moss which keeps the focus on what the movie is about as much as what happens. If Universal can find other takes on their iconic horror characters with the same sort of hook, they'll do a lot better than when they were trying to be classic-monster Marvel without laying the foundation first.

(Formerly on EFilmCritic)

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