The Invisible Man (4 stars)

The Invisible Man

Elisabeth Moss is magnetic in this suspenseful twist on the Universal classic

When The Mummy flopped in 2017, Universal Pictures' plans to launch a Marvel-esque expanded universe of expensive, interconnected monster movie reboots swiftly unravelled. Happily, the studio has now adopted a more pared-back approach to its horror stable. Backed by demi-scale scaremongers Blumhouse, writer-director Leigh Whannell's HG Wells rethink emerges as a low-budget, high-resonance exercise in sweaty-palmed, sci-fi-tinged suspense, with a magnetic lead to distract from its second-half stumbles.

With the man-in-bandages clichés of earlier adaptations reduced to a sight gag, an electrifyingly intense Elisabeth Moss takes the lead in a film that uses invisibility as a metaphor for gaslighting. Moss projects raw dread and 'final girl'-ish fortitude as Cecilia, a woman who flees her abusive partner, optics experimenter Adrian (a little-seen Oliver Jackson-Cohen), one dark and stormy night. A few weeks on, news of Adrian's suicide reaches Cecilia. But why does she feel like he's still breathing down her neck?

Drawing on genre knowhow gained from mystery-shocker Saw (which he wrote) right up to his 2018 tech-thriller Upgrade, Whannell milks minimalist set-ups for dread and shock value. Sequences in bedrooms and kitchens deploy haunted house and possession movie conventions to shivery effect. And Whannell knows just when to twist the knife on our expectations: witness the various set-pieces involving bedsheets, punches and, indeed, a knife.

While the latter numbers among one or two nicely audacious subversions, a choppier end-stretch requires us to take too many 'surprise' developments on trust. But these stumbles are somewhat ameliorated by involving character work from supporting stars Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid and Harriet Dyer, all lending firm back-up to what is, often, a nerve-rattling Moss one-hander. Elsewhere, Whannell maximises the potency of the unseen. DoP Stefan Duscio mines empty(-ish) spaces for tension, while Benjamin Wallfisch's throbbing score compounds the sense of an insidious presence that won't go away. With this controlled exercise in contained anxiety as an example, maybe Universal's revived monsters will stick around this time.

General release from Fri 28 Feb.

The Invisible Man

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US / Australia
  • 2h 4min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Leigh Whannell
  • Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer
  • UK release: 28 February 2020

Cecilia (Moss) flees her abusive partner, optics experimenter Adrian (Jackson-Cohen), and then hears that he’s dead; but he still seems to be around. Whannell milks minimalist set-ups for maximum effect, and Moss projects raw dread and ‘final girl’-ish fortitude. A low-budget but high-resonance exercise in sweaty-palmed…

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