Does Leigh Whannell Do Enough With ‘The Invisible Man’?

The subject of numerous adaptations, H. G. Well’s 1897 novel makes a comeback on the screen for a fresh, new audience. While Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man packs in contemporary themes and a powerful performance by Elisabeth Moss, the question is- does the film do enough to set itself apart?

Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) escapes her abusive husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), only to find out two weeks later that he has taken his own life. She tries to shake off her past and begin a new life, but things are not as easy as they seem, and a series of absurd and dangerous events make her realise that the past can sometimes come back to haunt us.

The first half takes its time. While it does a good job of building up the suspense, much of the first half is fairly predictable. It is in the second half that things start to pick pace, and interesting developments steer the film into a narrative arc that will make you hold your breath. The plot acquires layers and the narrative shifts drastically from the movie’s previous counterparts.

Apart from the theme of domestic violence and its repercussions on the victim, the film also incorporates themes of mental illness, harassment, and gaslighting. But the film in its wholeness is a comment on neither of these themes, rather, using them to build conflict and add dimensions to the narrative. In staying away from making normative judgments on these themes, the film allows its characters to pursue a conclusion that
feels real, validated and justified.

Cecilia as a character is wholly believable (as many women would tell you). The fear and paranoia that Moss portrays so vividly is a reality in many lover-turned-stalker abuse cases, and as an actor, she does full justice to this role- as both, victim and survivor. While we don’t get more than a glance at her psyche, or that of the other characters, they are written well enough to round that out and make the characters believable.

The background music does its job, preparing you for a scream and then amping it up. The film plays noticeably with diegetic sound, from Cecilia’s breathing to Adrian’s footsteps, and the timing of this is so accurate, that even the sudden sound of a cell phone vibrating in dead silence can send shivers down your spine. The camerawork pans across the setting at several instances, often from Cecilia to another perspective, constantly reminding you of the odds that she is up against. The close-up shots strongly bring out her mental state as the film progresses (so well, that it is surprising that none of the other characters in the film point out the mental duress that Cecilia is in).

Overall, as a sci-fi thriller, the movie packs a punch with all three elements- the science, the fiction and the thrill- in a premise that has been done to death. It gives the narrative a good degree of complexity, and while it might not scare you out of your seat or do something so radically different so as to set itself apart from its counterparts, it does make for a very enjoyable and engaging watch.

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