The Invisible Man is a very effective horror tale with a good share of chills and frights integrated into a thriller about a woman trying to escape an abusive relationship—and realizing that even the prospect of death might not dissuade the abuser.
Elisabeth Moss, so good in Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale, not to mention a recent supporting role in Us, delivers a compelling star turn here as Cecilia. As the film begins, the viewer sees her attempting to run away from her sleeping (or rather, drugged) boyfriend, the wealthy—and very controlling—optics engineer Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). There is the security system to bypass, a threatening dog, her own anxiety—to say nothing of the unexpected “surprises.” It’s an opening sequence that establishes the blend of pervasive dread and occasional shock that helps make the film work so well.
After a brief (and uneasy) respite at her friend’s home (having been aided in her escape by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer), Cecilia learns that Griffin (the name being a nod to H.G. Wells’ original invisible fella) has committed suicide; she also discovers from his intimidated lawyer brother (Michael Dorman) that she is heir to $5,000,000—provided she remain of sound mind and avoid criminal activity. And since this is a horror film, you know this won’t be an easy task—since little things start to happen that make her (as well as her friends and viewers) initially doubt her sanity.
While The Invisible Man is engrossing throughout, it is this first half that is far more unsettling, as these “little things” mount both in intensity and the severity of the consequences. Scenes where Moss’ Cecilia contends with little sounds, movements, misplaced items—and the overwhelming sense that someone is watching her—are persuasively enacted and staged. As there is the real possibility of an invisible presence wreaking havoc with Cecilia’s life, coupled with the resolute unwillingness of anyone to believe her, the tension in the first half proves to be both inventive and relentless.
Even after a slight decline in tension after The Invisible Man makes its big reveals, in the hands of writer-director Leigh Whannell the film still retains its capacity to both thrill and unnerve—and even manage a few surprises. Whannell is aided by a small but convincing cast; besides the excellent Moss, Aldis Hodge is quite good as her skeptical cop friend and Michael Dorman is fine as Griffin’s brother, who may harbor some similar resentment toward his big brother. Though this may have been initially envisioned as part of a Universal Monsters revival, one hopes that a direct sequel is not forthcoming, since the ending makes a statement of its own, and anything else might dilute it. But then again, life ,as well as the cinema, does contain an element of…surprise.