Within the first few moments of the movie, it becomes apparently writer/director Leigh Whannell has done something unique with the Invisible Man story. This should be no surprise after seeing his creativity on display in 2018’s “Upgrade.” With hardly a sound beside her anxious breathing, we watch Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) attempt to sneak out of the gilded cage in which her significant other, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has kept her captive. Her palpable fear draws us in as the camera moves to look down dark hallways from which her soon to be ex may emerge at any moment.
Whannell sets a precedent with this opening that carries throughout the movie. Instead of witnessing everything over the shoulder of the title character, the perspective has been shifted to that of his victim. The brilliance of this simple shift is it imbues the story with the tension and paranoia that have sorely been lacking from all previous iterations. As one cliche states, “the scariest things are what we can’t see.”
This is precisely the problem we share with Cecilia as she finds herself living with a friend of her sister, James (Aldis Hodge) along with his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Together they provide a warm, understanding, safe place for Cecilia to work on getting back on her feet. Unfortunately, the trauma she’s endured has left her dealing with PTSD, paranoia, and agoraphobia. It’s only slight relief when she receives notice that Adrian has committed suicide. Adrian’s brother, Tom (Michael Dorman) informs her of the large inheritance that was left for her, but which come tethered with certain legal stipulations. Like Cecilia, Tom has also been subject to Adrian’s abuse over the years and is sympathetic to her fears.
All of these events occur early in the movie and set up a fascinating dynamic for the rest of the story, the first half which plays out very similar to a poltergeist movie but laced with some genuine mystery. Has Adrian found a way to make himself invisible or is it his spirit haunting her? Is there a way to prove to others that she’s experiencing these events, or will everyone chalk it up to her PTSD? Is Tom an ally or does he have ulterior motives? Even with a great setup like this, many films falter by having their characters act irrationally, just to force the plot along. Thankfully, everyone in this story is quite bright, and they all behave in exactly the manner one would expect, given the circumstances. It’s interesting to watch how some of Cecilia’s best ideas (such as pouring out coffee on the floor to look for footsteps) make her seem even crazier in the eyes of others. By the time we hit the third act, Cecilia is no longer a victim but has become a proactive character in her fate.
Leigh Whannell has taken a B-movie character and with a unique perspective elevated it to something that is a very engaging experience. Don’t let this fun movie slip past you.
The Invisible Man