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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

Schnell, you stinkers! Come on, raus!

Private’s Progress (1956) (SPOILERS) Truth be told, there’s good reason sequel I’m Alright Jack reaps the raves – it is, after all, razor sharp and entirely focussed in its satire – but Private’s Progress is no slouch either. In some respects, it makes for an easy bedfellow with such wartime larks as Norman Wisdom’s The Square Peg (one of the slapstick funny man’s better vehicles). But it’s also, typically of the Boulting Brothers’ unsentimental disposition, utterly remorseless in rebuffing any notions of romantic wartime heroism, nobility and fighting the good fight. Everyone in the British Army is entirely cynical, or terrified, or an idiot.

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

It’s not as if she were a… maniac, a raving thing.

Psycho (1960) (SPOILERS) One of cinema’s most feted and most studied texts, and for good reason. Even if the worthier and more literate psycho movie of that year is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom . One effectively ended a prolific director’s career and the other made its maker more in demand than ever, even if he too would discover he had peaked with his populist fear flick. Pretty much all the criticism and praise of Psycho is entirely valid. It remains a marvellously effective low-budget shocker, one peppered with superb performances and masterful staging. It’s also fairly rudimentary in tone, character and psychology. But those negative elements remain irrelevant to its overall power.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.

North by Northwest (1959) (SPOILERS) North by Northwest gets a lot of attention as a progenitor of the Bond formula, but that’s giving it far too little credit. Really, it’s the first modern blockbuster, paving the way for hundreds of slipshod, loosely plotted action movies built around set pieces rather than expertly devised narratives. That it delivers, and delivers so effortlessly, is a testament to Hitchcock, to writer Ernest Lehmann, and to a cast who make the entire implausible exercise such a delight.

Look out the window. Eden’s not burning, it’s burnt.

Reign of Fire (2002) (SPOILERS) There was good reason to believe Rob Bowman would make a successful transition from top-notch TV director to top-notch film one. He had, after all, attracted attention and plaudits for Star Trek: The Next Generation and become such an integral part of The X-File s that he was trusted with the 1998 leap to the big screen. That movie wasn’t the hit it might have been – I suspect because, such was Chris Carter’s inability to hone a coherent arc, it continued to hedge its bets – but Bowman showed he had the goods. And then came Reign of Fire . And then Elektra . And that was it. Reign of Fire is entirely competently directed, but that doesn’t prevent it from being entirely lousy.