After two failures, the producers were not ready to invest big money in a risky project again, so in this modern adaptation of the novel of the same name by H.G. Wales from the end of the last century invested barely ten million dollars. As it always happens, if the idea reaches people who are capable of translating it into quality or something new, which is one of the characteristics of Blumhouse production, a positive result cannot be absent. Such is the case with this film, which made a nice profit even though cinemas were decimated by the corona virus pandemic.
In this modern version of the classic story, we follow Cecilia Kess (fantastic Elisabeth Moss), who at the very beginning of the film runs away from her boyfriend, the genius scientist Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who has controlled her in every sense for many years. That control left both psychological and physical consequences, so Cecilia feels afraid of him even when she is told that he committed suicide. With the received inheritance, she expects to finally start a normal life without Adrian, but soon strange things begin to happen to her that will make her practically lose her mind…
Leigh Whannell is certainly one of the most respected characters in the modern horror scene after creating the Saw franchise with James Wan and the Insidious trilogy, and I wrote about him in the article about the excellent film Upgrade that he directed. In his screenplay for this film, he completely turned the concept of the invisible man on its head and he is neither a protagonist, nor an anti-hero, nor a tragic figure, but someone defined by his need to be in total control. Because of this need, he is a bully and a manipulator, and it will turn out that he is ready to commit violence.
The center of the story is the unhappy Cecilia, who is convinced that she can feel the presence of her ex even though she is alone in the house. As a victim of years of torture, she has the feeling that the abuser is still watching her, playing with her mind and, as time goes on, planning to destroy everything that is left of her life. Although in the horror-thriller genre, one of the qualities of this film lies in the fact that the script convincingly presents the consequences of abuse and the long-term effects on the victim’s mind.
With the groundwork so clearly laid, no stronger sense of dread than that felt by Cecilia is needed. We understand her helplessness, and even the people on her side think she’s starting to lose her mind. There is a fantastic scene where Cecilia runs away from the house, the neighbor’s surveillance camera footage shows her running away, but would anyone see her running as running away from someone? We only see a woman who looks very disturbed and runs down the street at night for no apparent reason – even if she is being chased by an invisible man, we cannot see him. This is why Cecilia is alone in the film, in her knowledge, her fear and her trauma.
We can only see what is visible, but in this film we also see what we want to see, thanks to the masterful work of the camera, which turns an invisible man into an equal character. Vanel, for example, follows Cecilia when she leaves the room and keeps the camera as if there was someone else in the room. In other scenes, he keeps the camera on a distant, seemingly empty corner and our brain starts playing with us as if there is someone there. We are aware that violence is inevitable, we search parts of the frame to reveal a sign of the presence of the person who will produce that violence, and the director prepares us for the future and keeps us in suspense.
Elisabeth Moss is a very high-quality actress who is remembered by the general public for the series The Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Men, but wherever she appears she leaves a good impression (Us, The Square). The role of Cecilia is really demanding, you have to act out a wide range of emotions and several scenes with physical acrobatics, and we simply can’t take our eyes off her eyes, where a lot is happening. Acting is even more difficult because her opponent is invisible. She presented her heroine to us very convincingly, practically carrying a large part of the film on her back. She succeeds in making us sympathize with her, be on her side, and believe that she is isolated from any potential help.
Since horror is among the genres, the scare mechanics escalate in stages, but never in a cheap, transparent way. There are several scenes that won’t scare you so much as they will surprise you, and one of them caused a lot of controversy and ruined the believability of the film for many. I’m not the type to look for a hair in an egg, especially in this genre, so I placed that scene in some logic of the film, that, for example, the invisible man turned off the cameras. Sound, that is. its absence in the film plays a very important role, because in combination with the recording of empty space, it really plays against us viewers.