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Review: The Invisible Man – “A tightly written script”

The Invisible Man is a reimagining rather than a reboot of the original character, leaning into the terror of the unknown wrapped in the guise of a controlling manipulative ex-husband (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen) stalking his ex-wife Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss). The effect is intriguing, where director Leigh Whannell flexes all his horror muscles to make the invisible man more sinister with nods to poltergeists, ghosts and hallucinations; but the Invisible Man is most effective as an allegory for domestic abuse. Cecilia is gas-lit, isolated and beaten by her ex, it’s an eye-opening portrayal that loses sight of itself towards the final act.

The film initially began as part of Universal Pictures ‘Dark Universe’ project, which fell apart as soon as it began with The Mummy in 2017. Moving away from an interconnected universe we now have a focused, low-budget horror. The only reference to a broader universe is a nod to the original film in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it man wrapped head to toe in bandages in a hospital bed.

Possible minor spoilers ahead.

Ironically the film takes its eye off the Invisible Man, focusing firmly on Elisabeth Moss. The switch to focus on Cecilia is a clever one, as the film begins tensely on her escape from her ex-husband and their beautiful beach-front home littered with CCTV on every corridor. Once free of his presence, Cecilia tries to cope with years of mental and physical abuse unable to walk far from her home until she learns that her ex has committed suicide and left her a respectable fortune. After that she is surprisingly comfortable with travelling across San Francisco several times throughout the film – this is not the only plot hole or oversight.

Cecilia is unconvinced by this run of ‘good luck’ and once things around the house start to go missing or moving on their own she does start to suspect he is still there watching her. Her new housemates James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid) try not to patronise Cecilia when she says she is being followed by her invisible ex; James implores her to not let him haunt her. The film spends a little too long indulging the idea that Cecilia really is paranoid before revealing the Invisible Man, from there on Moss carries the film and will convince you that there is more than just thin air she is acting against. Writer-director Leigh Whannell could have spent more time on the domestic abuse angle and dug deeper into this, but instead, we do have a tightly written script that provokes questions but no firm conclusion, it’s an imperfect trade.

Cecilia suffers humiliation after humiliation by her phantasm, until she fights back in the final act, evoking resemblances to Predator, but it’s the doppelgänger from Annihilation that is brought to your mind when the Invisible Man’s suit is revealed and the alien pulsing score crescendos. In the end, the Invisible Man will make you squirm and catch your breath, but there is nothing that gets under your skin, despite the best attempts of the cast.

The Invisible Man is in cinemas on 28th February 2020.

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