• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

The Invisible Man reframed as a contemporary domestic horror

 

THE INVISIBLE MAN
directed by Leigh Whannell

It's all about Elizabeth Moss' victim in this smart and scary rethink of the classic thriller.

In the 1944 classic Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman, a man tries to convince his wife that she’s crazy by incrementally dimming the gas lights in their house and telling her it’s just her imagination.

The term “gaslighting” has come to define the practice of making someone (usually a woman) feel like they are losing their sanity or imagining perceived slights. It serves as the underlying thrust of Leigh Whannell’s new take on The Invisible Man, the HG Wells sci-fi novel first published in 1897 and which has been a screen regular since James Whale’s classic 1933 adaptation starring Claude Rains. Here, architect Cecilia Kass (a superb Elisabeth Moss, entrapped yet again) escapes the controlling clutches of her abusive inventor boyfriend, only to fear that he will find her and inflict violent revenge.

On learning he has died, Cecilia gets only a moment of relief before she starts to experience an insidious presence. As her protestations fall on understandably disbelieving ears, Cecilia must fight for credibility as well as hold off her unseeable tormentor.

Gone are the days of Rains and his cohorts wrapped in bandages (although there is a brief cute nod to this trope as light relief). Like Whannell's breakout feature, Upgrade, The Invisible Man veers into a couple of small plot holes, but it is mostly ingenious in both its propulsive narrative and ability to keep your heart lodged firmly in your mouth

It begins with a stupendous opening scene, which establishes Cecilia’s legitimate terror without a drop of blood being shed. Interestingly, given the title, Whannell keeps Cecilia at the centre of the story, focusing on the victim rather than the offender (played by little-known English actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who is mostly represented by a succession of empty spaces and a suggestive soundtrack. He’s certainly an economical movie villain in a film with an admirably low $7 million budget.

It may be cheap, but it’s also a sensational remake that updates the story to the 21st century and reframes it as a contemporary domestic horror. The Invisible Man is not to be missed.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★1/2

Video: Universal Pictures NZ

This article was first published in the March 14, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

For more on the political, cultural and literary life of the country, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and sign up to our weekly newsletter.