There’s a playbook for movies like this year’s first big-name thriller, The Invisible Man. Following their doubts, an abused partner eventually stands up to their abuser to the audience’s satisfaction: see 1944’s Gaslight to 2002’s Enough, with many other examples in between and beyond. With little added originality to the formula, given The Invisible Man revealed most of its cards in its trailer (the man is indeed invisible and it’s not in her head), The Invisible Man doesn’t serve to revolutionize the genre. Instead, it relies on running the basics exceptionally well, balancing moments of peace with a rapidly growing tension that spills over into violence. The Invisible Man‘s simple success is proving that the basic script, when executed well, still works to make a satisfying tension-filler thriller.
The Peace Before The War
One angle handled uniquely is that The Invisible Man begins at the escape from the relationship, trusting the audience to imagine their own iteration of the abuse that Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss) is enduring. You may find it refreshing, as I did, avoiding an entire first act of proving an abusive partner is abusive by having to witness a survivor’s humiliation or assault. Instead, we open to Cecelia’s escape to launch a first act based on her recovery — the moments of relative peace where she slowly pieces a life back together with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and friend and coincidental detective, James (Aldis Hodge).
It’s a stretch of peace that makes for the most important ingredient to the story’s success, creating a world for the character that becomes full of hope, even happiness; proof that, without her partner, a healthy life is waiting to be lived. After learning her abusive partner, Adrian, killed himself and left her millions of dollars, she creates a bank account to pay James’ daughter’s way through her dream college. They celebrate and dance in the living room. There’s laughter and joy. There’s a pillow fight, and the semblance of a new family that had grown from trauma. The Invisible Man invests just enough time into that budding happiness before the inevitable man-turned-invisible reappears in her life to take it all away.
Predictable Done Well
Elisabeth Moss’ performance and character is the everywoman, noting that there’s nothing special about her compared to the millionaire Silicon Valley tech tycoon who could ostensibly have had any woman he wanted. There’s a subtle indictment of his world of the deified wealthy tech-bro, or so I would like to believe; a psychotic, wealthy young man only uses his money, power, and control as means to maintain it, even over someone so “regular.” (Especially over someone so regular.)
Standard also is a genre-cliché stretch of violence, where you can expect full over-the-top action. There’s good and bad here: you almost can’t fault a film for flexing its visual muscle with a scene that highlights an invisible person beating up witless, nameless would-be captors. At the same time, such scenes push The Invisible Man closer to the campy end of the spectrum than I would have liked. The invisible villain versus nameless Storm Trooper guards makes for little more than predictable masturbatory scenes of violence.
For Thriller Fans
While the movie’s strength lays more in its tension than its violence, there’s no shortage of the gratuitous variety, often in the form of throat slashing. Expect jump scares and swelling music that leave you looking away towards a bottom corner of the screen or testing your ability to watch without flenching. Overall, The Invisible Man is a worthy thriller that meets its mandate, painting by the numbers to make a nonetheless fun picture. For thriller fans, it’s worth the cost of admission.
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