The Invisible Man Review: Elisabeth Moss Scares Up Her Best Performance Yet
Filmmaker Leigh Whannell’s career in horror began back in 2001 when he worked alongside his friend James Wan to write Saw. This low budget horror flick took years to get made, but it was worth the wait. Saw was accepted by the Sundance Film Festival and premiered to rave reviews back in January 2004. It continued to generate buzz throughout Sundance, which prompted Lionsgate to purchase the film. That October, just in time for Halloween, Lionsgate released Saw into theaters. The film’s commercial success turned James Wan into a household name and a once low-budget indie into a multi-film franchise that has gone on to gross over a billion dollars worldwide.
For the past sixteen years, Leigh Whannell has written twelve feature films but has only directed twice. Whannell is highly respected amongst the horror film community but sadly hasn’t become quite the household name on the same level as his Saw co-writer. However, thanks to The Invisible Man, Whannell will finally get his moment in the spotlight.
The Invisible Man is a modern-day reimagining of the famous character created by H.G. Wells. The Invisible Man is a character who has always been associated with the Universal Classic Monsters film franchise. The idea of remaking The Invisible Man has been floating around Hollywood since 2007 but didn’t end up being a reality until 2019 when Whannell came onboard after producer Jason Blum showed interested in taking on the franchise as a series of standalone films rather than part of a shared universe. The Invisible Man is the first Universal Monster movie to be released after the failure of The Mummy, which killed the launch of the planned Dark Universe film series.
Elisabeth Moss stars as Cecilia Kass, wife to the well-regarded Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). However, their marriage is nowhere near perfect. Adrian is an abusive man craving control. The film opens with Cecilia escaping her toxic marriage and moving in with her best friend James (Aldis Hodge). James has only recently learned about Cecilia’s troubled marriage but wants nothing more than to help her by letting her stay with him and his daughter (Storm Reid) until she adjusts back to living a normal life. A few weeks later, Cecilia learns Adrian has committed suicide, and a large chunk of his fortune has been bestowed to her by Adrian’s brother Tom (Michael Dorman). However, she soon discovers Adrian’s suicide may be a questionable one to consider.
I grew up in the 80s. The majority of horror films I watched were fun and entertaining, but rarely did they impact me the way so many horror films have in recent years. With films like The Babadook, Get Out, It Follows, A Quiet Place, and now, The Invisible Man, the horror genre has become one of my favorites. What makes The Invisible Man so great is how it doubles as a horror film and a revenge thriller. The script, written by Whannell, digs deep into the world of trauma and how Cecilia is struggling to cope with life outside of her abusive marriage. Thanks to Moss’ incredible performance, you can tell she wants to live a normal life but is struggling to overcome the events of her past. When things start to go awry, she is constantly judged and looked upon even by those who love her and support her as a person in need of serious help.
Whannell’s script is well-written and, like many recent genre films, feels very relevant to today. The concept of an invisible man has been done many times before, but I don’t know if it has ever been as effective as it is here. I appreciate how the film addresses abusive relationships and PTSD without being heavy-handed about it. The film also addresses the whole “believe women” conversation that has been quite the topic of discussion within the industry since shamed producer Harvey Weinstein was exposed in 2017 (and just recently convicted). These themes are so seamlessly written into the plot of the film that they add a whole other layer to the terror Whannell has already created.
A lot of directors have embraced the world of science fiction and horror. These two genres are once again combined for The Invisible Man. Whannell knows modern technology is a big part of our lives, and incorporating that into this film is important. Not to go too far into how invisibility is possible in this film, but the idea of cameras being everywhere, watching every single move a person makes is both a part of this film and a reflection of society. Whannell’s use of technology plays off the idea that cameras and video can be scary without making technology the villain like other sci-fi films often do.
I can go on and on about all of the clever ways Whannel built tension, chills, and thrills, but I need to shift gears and talk about Elisabeth Moss’s performance. For about 75% of this film, Moss has to stare at empty hallways, the kitchen, and other rooms, and somehow make that terrifying. Sure, the score and direction help elevate each one of these scenes, but if the viewer isn’t invested in the character of Cecilia, then the majority of these scenes wouldn’t work. That said, I honestly don’t know if the average moviegoer understands the level of commitment and dedication Moss had to bring to this performance to make this film as effective as it is.
For an actress who has been working consistently since the early 1990s, it is a real shame that only in the last couple of years has Moss became noticed by a wider audience. Throughout her career, I have always found Moss to be an actress who isn’t afraid to take daring and challenging roles. Moss’s performance as Cecilia is one of her most complex and layered performances. She 100% commits to this character, fully embracing the material. It is no surprise to learn she was creatively involved with the script to help with her character’s authenticity. Moss is who sells this movie to the audience and delivers her best performance yet. There has been a lot of talk about women in horror and how their performances are often overlooked come award season. I think Moss’s performance in Invisible Man is so terrific that, depending on how the rest of the year pans out, she could and should be a part of the conversation.
The Invisible Man is an excellent way to kick off a new whole new decade of horror. After audiences see The Invisible Man this weekend, I genuinely believe Whannell will become one of the most sought after horror directors in Hollywood. The Invisible Man is a pulse-pounding film that will have you on edge from the very first frame until the end credits begin. Elisabeth Moss has never been better and sells the role like no other. If you are looking for something great to check out this week at the movies, The Invisible Man is sure to deliver.