THE UNREALIZED POTENTIAL OF “THE INVISIBLE MAN”
The Invisible Man is disappointing precisely because it has so much potential
The trailer for The Invisible Man is fresh, enticing, and extremely deceiving; it’s upsetting. It promises a gut-wrenching thriller sci-fi story about how an abusive man is able to stalk his lover without being seen and ultimately, make her look mad as she tries to tell people that he’s attacking her. It’s an ambitious film but honestly it could have been so much better.
In fact, the beginning of the film is so distressing because of the tension created from the uncertainty in the air. It actually starts strong by exciting you with an escape: Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) pretends to sleep as her husband lies beside her until she gets her opportunity to leave him. You can tell that she is terrified as she slowly creeps out of bed and manoeuvres around their home to run away. But it is absurdly hard for her to actually do it; her partner Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has created the perfect cage equipped with cameras in almost every corner and even an elaborate alarm system to contain her. But by luck and because of her tenacity, she finally manages to get away. Sounds great right? The introduction has the perfect mix of mystery and angst. Following that, a series of events build up to make the first thirty minutes of the film a peak thriller, the kind of film that primes viewers to feel intense satisfaction from experiencing a deluding cycle of confusion and then discomfort. It has traces of the spirit of acclaimed thrillers like Donnie Darko or Nightcrawler but except for a few seducing moments here and there, in the end, the film turns out to be lame.
The Invisible Man is disappointing precisely because it has so much potential. Any one who has formed a relationship with Moss after watching her remarkable performances in the past, first in Mad Men and then later in The Handmaid’s Tale, will expect to be cajoled on a deliciously abusive cycle of feeling pity for her as she lays her despair bare—like only she can—then feeling hopeful, just to have it ripped away later. This is her genius. Moss is so skilled at making people feel her cries and tears and really, at breaking your heart. It’s disturbingly appealing. Usually, her performances are so moving that you get sucked into her world and for a moment you feel disoriented once you peel your eyes away from her, as if you’ve been interrupted from a deep sleep; you have no idea what is happening or where to go from there. But with Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale, her incredible acting prowess is met with quality direction and extraordinary scripts to support her and create the perfect harmony. This time was different.
Leigh Whannell’s direction and screen play for the film was flimsy. It’s true, I’ve never read the novel for which the film is based on and yet I feel certain that the movie doesn’t capture the essence of what others have said to be a gripping work by Herbert George Wells. The film feels as loose as Disturbia. The thing that both movies have in common is that they’re aimless and long-winded like a run-on sentence; they don’t have a clear vision and there’s an element of redundancy in them. So at different points in The Invisible Man, it feels like it drifts from being a thriller to a sci-fi film and it betrays the ominous feeling that Whannell strives to achieve. Specific scenes comes to mind when addressing this hesitation in the film: the most glaring are the sequences leading up to the final moment. If you watch the movie, you’ll know right away where the film should have ended. Instead though, it extends past that satisfying minute and Whannell allows Cecilia to talk more, walk, and then stare unnecessarily. Scenes like that dilute the intense build up of suspense, causing a maddening feeling of frustration because it makes you feel like the film could have really been great ‘if only’. It would have been great if it wasn’t for the needlessly long scenes where Cecilia was fighting the air, if it wasn’t for her mean sister, the unexplained relationship between Kass and her saviour James (Aldis Hodge), or if it wasn’t for the insincerity in Jackson-Cohen’s acting, ad infinitum, but the final scene was the thing that really killed it. In fact, I remember thinking, ‘this is exactly where the film should end,’ but it didn’t. Whannell almost had it though. He was on to something when he tried to personalize the story of a villain attaining power, but even though he was close, his film doesn’t quite hit and it’s tragic.
The Invisible Man is just a tease. It inspires a feeling of controlled fear and excitement that it can’t sustain. Over the years of watching thrillers, it’s become clear to me that the best thrillers have one thing in common: they are tight. That means, no unnecessary filler moments or conversations between characters that distract from the chaos and the actual thrill. But maybe comparing the film to the likes of Donnie Darko is unfair. Sometimes, people like films that are easily digestible, bite size treats of terror meant to just past the time, not psychological thrillers like Donnie Darko or No Country For Old Men, that mark you for life. These are the kinds of films that, once in a while, trigger a random body chill just for a second, when you think back to certain scenes. (With Donnie Darko, my fear started with the knowledge of Frank’s existence and continued thereafter.) So, in that sense, The Invisible Man gives scaredy-cats the comfort of a soft panic.
Still, it instills hope because as far as I can tell, this is an entirely new angle to the futuristic world of science fiction. So, if we’re now at the point where filmmakers are trying to break outside of the mold of mainstream sci-fi thrillers, then like any other process, we’ll ultimately have to go through the phase of mediocre stories until we finally get the films that blow us away. Let’s hope that soon, a screen writer will achieve the same excellence, that was Prometheus. Trust the process.