The Invisible Man strikes a new genre in film – superhero-horror.
Actually, it’s more like supervillain-horror movie, since the brilliant scientist who creates an invisibility suit is an evil sadist. It is his live-in girlfriend, Cecilia, played to perfection by Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), who is the true hero of the film.
Australian director Leigh Whannel, the man responsible for such gross-out flicks as Saw and Insidious, curbed the gore and gotcha thrill shots and delivered a perfectly balanced film about not good and evil, but evil and survival.
The movie dives right into the meat of the story at the start, showing Cecilia escaping her sadistic, controlling boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), in the middle of the night. Through spare dialogue and revealing scenes, the audience quickly gets the picture: Adrian is a brilliant optics pioneer who has developed a perfect camouflage suit that makes the wearer invisible. That, along with a cruel, controlling streak, makes him a formidable adversary and has the added advantage of making his victims look as if they are having a seizure.
Casting Moss as Cecilia was a perfect choice. A classically beautiful actress would not have fit the role as the beleaguered girlfriend trying to convince a disbelieving world of her plight. Her desperation, which mirrors paranoia, is palpable.
Unlike most horror movies, where the victims do stupid things and generally make things worse for themselves, Moss is ahead of the audience. Her Cecilia does the things most right-thinking folks would do in that situation, making the film more believable. The fact that the U.S. military is working on (or, as far as we know, already perfected) an invisibility suit, adds to the realism.
The supporting cast gives Cecilia a sounding board for her theories. All are standouts, particularly James (Aldis Hodge), a platonic friend and police officer, and his delightful teenage daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid).
The direction is tense, the sets are sparse, and even the special effects are relatively small in scale. The secret of the film’s success is the quality of the acting. When Cecilia flails around fighting the invisible bad guy, the audience has no doubt that there is an unseen villain on the screen.
All said, it is Moss’ considerable talent that makes this a must-see (excuse the pun) movie. Her everywoman looks scream first fear and paranoia then justified terror and create an unforgettable and relatable character.
And sharp-eyed fans of the H.G. Wells novel and the original movie will be rewarded with Easter eggs. Watch the name “Griffin” appearing on a computer screen, reflecting the name of the character in the novel, and a hospital patient with a bandaged face looks like Claude Rains from the 1933 movie.
Michael Sangiacomo, who created an invisible anti-hero himself in the Image comic series, PHANTOM JACK, is a writer from South Amherst.