In “The Invisible Man” directed by Leigh Whannell, an old tale is given life and approached with a new angle. The story follows Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), a woman stuck in an abusive relationship with a controlling, “narcissistic-sociopath,” boyfriend Adrian Griffin ( Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who happens to be a millionaire through his research into optics. We, the audience, follow Cecilia as she escapes his grasp, learns of his apparent later suicide and then spends the rest of the movie tormented and mentally-tortured by something no one can see.
“The Invisible Man” is a well-made horror movie. The music and lighting aid to a sense of never-ending tension that mirrors what Kass is feeling. The use of an invisible but tangible person in the plot leads to some clever deviations from the standard “ghost” horror film. There is the classic “Paranormal Activity”-style sheets pulled from the bed of our sleeping protagonist, but normally the main character doesn’t have the chance to fight off a ghost with knives, guns and fountains pens.
Pairing the story of an abusive relationship with horror is masterfully done here. From the start, Kass is portrayed as a resourceful and intelligent main character, orchestrating an escape from a supposedly brilliant control-freak. We see just how much she comes alive after realizing Griffin is dead. She is friendly, she’s kind, and she just wants to live a life free of Griffin.
With that as a base, it helped make seeing such a person slowly go mad, slowly lose all her friends and family as Griffin isolates her with his newfound powers that much more painful and frustrating to watch in all the right ways. It also made seeing her continue to fight and refuse to give in all that much more fulfilling to watch.
All this is aided by the wonderful performance of Elisabeth Moss. Her performance contains so much within it. There was not a single moment you don’t fully believe she is Cecilia Kass, and it helps you to hope against cause for her to succeed. It’s never easy to act against nothing, and Moss does it for most of the film, staring off at a wall or an empty door with fear and loathing that makes you feel like Griffin is there, just watching.
Of course with all the good does come some bad, as is often the case. A particular scene where Griffin kills a legion of security guards as Cecilia tries to escape comes to mind. The attempt was to show off just how dangerous Griffin is even if others knew he was around, but the effect is instead more comedic than it likely intended to be. As guard after guard rounds the corner, the scene starts to feel more ridiculous as you start to wonder why a mental facility has 10 armed guards within a two minute response time.
At times, the editing felt off, with some scenes ending too soon and other too late, leading to what otherwise would be a harrowing moment or the end to an action scene growing just the smallest bit stale. One scene towards the beginning seems like it should end in a crane shot of the forest as Griffin runs off into the distance, but at the very end, you notice him stop for no apparent reason.
The biggest oddity to the film is the plotline involving Griffin’s money, which may have simply been a plot device but was mentioned enough times but ultimately lead nowhere that it seemed as if something was missing. After Griffin dies, Cecilia inherits 5 million contingent on her “not breaking the law or being deemed psychologically unfit.”
This is used later as Griffin and his brother threaten to take the money away, but Cecilia has shown no need or use for it aside from giving some away to her friend’s daughter for college. That in itself is a minor gripe, but removing it and having a tighter script feels like it would have been worth it.
Overall “The Invisible Man” proves that low-budget horror films can still bring the chills. There is rarely a moment you won’t be desperately scanning the screen, begging for a sign as to whether Griffin is there or not. The story is strong, the main character likable and capable, and the tension sharp. If you’re looking for more in a horror film, then maybe it’s time to lower those impossible standards and simply enjoy a well-made film.