By Josh Silva
Graphic by Al McLeroy
Since the days of H.G. Wells, gaslighting, the manipulation of someone into questioning their sanity, has been a hallmark of the horror genre. The audience and protagonist spot supernatural occurrences while the supporting characters disregard any paranormal activity, calling the protagonist crazy. In such moments the audience squirms in frustration, knowing the situation’s gravity but unable to tell anyone. Like Steven Soderbergh before him, writer-director Leigh Wannell has, in the shadow of #metoo, realized that this situation is not unlike the shared experiences of women.
In his adaptation of the classic novel, the supernormal villain and all too realistic abusive boyfriend, Adrian, are one and the same. The movie begins with Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) escaping his Silicon Valley-financed clutches and staying with her friend (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter. Adrian unexpectedly dies, leaving Cecilia with millions. But it’s soon realized that this is merely the first step of his post-mortem mind game.
Narratively, The Invisible Man is the ideal remake; it eschews faithfulness in favor of a contemporary context and mythology in favor of suspense and character. Such elements are seemingly integral to all stories, but lamentably absent in modern horror films. The movie’s standout aspect is Elisabeth Moss, who delivers an intense and uninhibited, yet grounded performance as a young, abused woman. The film also shines in some–though not all–of Wannell’s set pieces. In an era of incoherent cutting and pointlessly flat compositions, the plot makes staging and sustained silence integral to the tension. Unfortunately, the film is still inhibited by the usual shortcomings of Blumhouse films: digital desaturation, an overbearing score, and hollow jump-scares. Wannell’s skills as a director also eclipse his skills as a dialogue writer. The dialogue lacks personality, but it is made up for by the tense set pieces.
For better or worse, The Invisible Man is a product of its time. It handles the topical subject matter gracefully, but can’t quite break free of the artistically stifling Blumhouse mold. Still, Elisabeth Moss and the set pieces are reason enough to see it even if, below the surface, a better film exists.