The empty spaces at the corners of a room have never seemed so terrifying as they do in Leigh Whannell’s timely, impressive update of The Invisible Man, which takes HG Wells’ tale (and the subsequent movie adaptations) of a scientist who learns to disappear and turns the story on its head.
In this version of the tale we don’t follow the Invisible Man himself, instead focusing on Elisabeth Moss’s Cecilia, an architect who escapes an abusive relationship in a tense opening sequence. In fact, some of the film’s biggest “jump-scare” moments come during this first scene, which sees Cecilia tiptoeing through a cavernous modern-architecture house while trying not to wake her boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).
Soon, she’s away and trying to deal with her PTSD with the help of family and friends, only to get an apparent reprieve when she’s informed that Adrian has died, leaving her a portion of his fortune.
But of course, it’s no spoiler to note that there’s more to Adrian’s disappearance than meets (or doesn’t meet) the eye. Suddenly strange things start happening around Cecilia. Work samples for a job interview go missing. A gas hob is turned up after she leaves the kitchen. A stray breath hangs in the cold air. Everyone tells her she’s paranoid, but somehow she can’t help but shake the feeling that Adrian is still watching her, somewhere, somehow.
The re-crafting of the Invisible Man story to deal with ideas of gaslighting, coercive control and physical abuse honestly fits so well it’s astonishing, with Cecilia’s pleas to be believed (and her friends’ unwillingness to accept her account of events) ringing uncomfortably true to real-life stories of domestic abuse as the Invisible Man’s attacks become more violent and sustained.
In fact, at times this visceral sci-fi spin on domestic violence can be difficult to watch, and may prove tough viewing for anyone with any experience of something similar in their past.
Scenes of Elisabeth Moss being buffeted by invisible forces are particularly unpleasant to watch, though the film’s most effective and harrowing scares are in its quieter moments, a roving camera suggesting the silent gaze of an unseen figure while Benjamin Wallfisch’s score slowly ratchets up the tension. Is Adrian in that corner? Sitting in that chair? Or is he somewhere else entirely? Like Cecilia, you’ll find yourself questioning every small movement on the screen.
As the film continues the spectacle increases, and the concluding action scenes (including a slightly awkward resolution) don’t quite match the success of the quieter, more subtle scenes that came before.
Still, overall writer/director Leigh Whannell (known for the Saw and Insidious movies) has pulled off a truly arresting, up-to-the-moment take on old material that makes it feel as fresh and new as if it had been conceived today.
Really, it has to be seen to be believed.
The Invisible Man is released in UK cinemas from Friday 28th February