Skip to main content

You are physically close to him. He’s in that urn over there.

The Invisible Man
(2020)

(SPOILERS) Incredible how you can see right through him. As a fan of Leigh Whannell’s sophomore film Upgrade, I was willing to give this latest telling of The Invisible Man a chance, even though I was doubtful of its repurposing, seemingly falling prey to the kind of unrefined stalker antics that largely did for Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man, the last major studio take on the premise (okay, excepting The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). And while it’s certainly the case that Whannell does rather limit his canvas in that regard, he has nevertheless made an undeniably effective stalker picture, one that features a number of quite satisfying plot turns.

I don’t particularly think touting The Invisible Man as a progressive women’s picture does it enormous favours, though, as many critics jumping on the bandwagon of approved perceptions (or should that be optics?) have. It is, after all, a very traditional movie at heart, one that, with a few tweaks, could easily have landed in the 80s heroine-in-peril cycle, a cycle critics ritually slaughtered out of hand. The difference here, ostensibly, is that Whannell has lent the picture a subtext, with the aid of star Elisabeth Moss. Indeed, Moss might be labelled the current incarnation of the scream queen, except for the #MeToo generation; she’s made her acting mark by being repeatedly tortured, battered and abused by menfolk (albeit, just psychologically in Mad Men).

The picture’s subtext is consequently one of no one believing the battered wife when she claims her charming husband is mistreating her. Too frightened to speak when he was alive, now he’s “dead”, it becomes quite clear that she is making up her claims. She has no proof. It’s an outlandish, unbelievable suggestion. She’s crazy, needs locking up. Yeah… put it like that, it’s about as subtle as in invisible man slashing the heroine’s sister’s throat in front of her in a crowded restaurant and leaving the bloody knife in her hand.

But, per the opening paragraph, undeniably effective. What the picture misses out on is any nuance, aside from the subtleties of Moss’ commendable performance. The Invisible Man is elegantly shot by Whannell’s cinematographer Stefan Duscio, making great use of the widescreen format with atmospherically empty-but-are-they spaces provoking a powerfully tense dread. The dramatic shifts and rug-pulls, however, are all muscle car, with twists even Thomas Harris would blanche at. The invisible villain has finally been killed? No, he has not; it was his brother all along (it wasn’t). En route, Moss’ Cecilia Kass is accused of hitting pal Aldis Hodge’s daughter (Storm Reid)! Cecilia discovers she’s pregnant! The fortune that was hers is snatched away if she’s pronounced loony! The finale is particularly deft, with a wired Cecilia slipping into a rapprochement with her ex (found tied up in the basement by his brother) but using the opportunity to become the Invisible Woman and get away with him slitting his own throat.

If Moss carries the picture with aplomb and gives it a veneer of substance, everyone else is left dangling with the kinds of unvarnished types you’d expect from a standard horror. Michael Dorman is the younger brother-in-law – apparently, and slightly unlikely but what the hell, as ultra-capable as his psycho brother, since he goes on a murderous spree in the mental hospital and then beats up Hodge (Edit: it's been pointed out to me that it's probably Adrian in the hospital, since the malfunctioning suit is replaced by a working one come the home invasion, but either way, it illustrates how opportunistic the plotting has become by this point, if we're supposed to swallow that Adrian decides to go home and hide in the basement on the assumption that little brother would screw up and SWAT would pay him a call). Oliver Jackson-Cohen is barely in it as Cecilia’s not-dead-ex Adrian, and entirely stock forgettable, which only underlines the movie’s B-credentials. He’s Michael Myers when the legacy of using that title surely deserved a whiff of Claude Rains.

The twist on invisibility – an optics suit: think Bond’s car in Die Another Day but niftier in design and not naff – is an effective and appealing one, and I liked the Predator rattle sound effect used when it becomes visible (at least, it sounded like that to me). The reliance on practical work is laudable (aside from the suit effects, there’s little obvious CGI), and Whannell proves himself a dab hand at eking the suspense from a scene. If this is the way forward, it bodes well for Universal’s horror staples. As does the news than Karyn Kusama will be directing their Dracula update. It also bodes well for Whannell’s Escape from New York (providing you think anyone should be remaking Escape from New York in the first place).


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

He's not a nightstalker, and it'll take a lot more than bench presses to defeat him.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) (SPOILERS) The most successful entry in the franchise, if you don’t count Freddy vs. Jason . And the point at which Freddy went full-on vaudeville, transformed into adored ringmaster rather than feared boogeyman. Not that he was ever very terrifying in the first place (the common misapprehension is that later instalments spoiled the character, but frankly, allowing Robert Englund to milk the laughs in bad-taste fashion is the saving grace of otherwise forgettably formulaic sequel construction). A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master boasts the most inventive, proficient effects work yet, but it’s also by far the least daring in terms of plotting, scraping together a means for Freddy to persist in his nocturnal pestilence while offering nothing in the way of the unexpected, be it characterisations or story points.

Give daddy the glove back, princess.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) (SPOILERS) Looking at Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare , by some distance the least lauded (and laudable) of the original Elm Street sextet, you’d think it inconceivable that novice director and series old-hand – first as assistant production manager and finally as producer – Rachel Talalay has since become a respected and in-demand TV helmer. For the most part, Freddy’s Dead is shockingly badly put together. It reminded me of the approach the likes of Chris Carter and Sir Ken take, where someone has clearly been around productions, absorbing the basics of direction, but has zero acumen for turning that into a competent motion picture, be it composition, scene construction, editing or pacing. Talalay’s also responsible for the story idea here, which does offer a few nuggets, at least, but her more primary role actively defeats any positives.

Monster nom nom?

The Suicide Squad (2021) (SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy , barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither ; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.

The voice from the outer world who will lead them to paradise.

Dune (2021) (SPOILERS) For someone who has increasingly dug himself a science-fiction groove, Denis Villeneuve isn’t terribly imaginative. Dune looks perfect, in the manner of the cool, clinical, calculating and above all glacial rendering of concept design and novel cover art in the most doggedly literal fashion. And that’s the problem. David Lynch’s edition may have had its problems, but it was inimitably the product of a mind brimming with sensibility. Villeneuve’s version announces itself as so determinedly faithful to Frank Herbert, it needs two movies to tell one book, and yet all it really has to show for itself are gargantuan vistas.