So tonight I decided that it had been too long since I’ve been to the theater and I needed to get back in the cinematic swing of things. I hadn’t originally intended on seeing “The Invisible Man” in theaters but thought I might catch it down the road a little bit when it was on a streaming service or I could find it perhaps in a second hand store for a reasonable price. I’ve picked up a number of films over the years from all manner of second hand shops and have found some very reliable outlets for subsidizing my penchant for purchasing discs. I’ve even watched most of the ones I’ve bought. I plan on eventually watching all of them. Pinky promise. While Leigh Whannell, of “Saw” and “Insidious” fame, has a decent amount of clout in the horror genre and Elizabeth Moss seems to have garnered herself a good deal of favor as of late as well, the film didn’t strike me as one I shouldn’t miss this early in the game. But I got some reliable intel from a coworker who had seen it and a lot of the notes he was addressing sounded like I may have been a bit hasty.
After grabbing a bite to eat I headed to the local cineplex with my pre-purchased ticket and grabbed my seat with about 15 minutes to showtime. Now as somebody who sees a fair amount of movies, many of which are in theaters (I believe I hit the theater about 25 times last year), I’m used to the drill. I must say I do have a favorite theater which is closest to my home and also quite nice in terms of amenities. They also happen to cut trailers off after 10 minutes which I REALLY appreciate, shoutout to you Xscape Blankenbaker. So getting to the theater 15 minutes early means about 25 minutes of commercials and 20-25 more minutes of trailers. After what did seem like a borderline unreasonable amount of time the lights finally dimmed in my fairly well attended theater and the screen lit up.
I’m going to try and review this film without giving away anything. I apologize in advance if anything ends up being too spoiler-y but I’m going to do my best to review the film based on the elements of it per my viewing and less on plotting out the entire story and ruining it for everyone. Before I get too far into any of the proverbial weeds, lets just all get on the same page from what the trailer all lets us know. Yes, I know some people don’t do trailers because they feel like even those give away too much. And maybe there’s a small case to be made here with this flick. But lets lay out what we know from the trailer. Our main protagonist, Cecilia (Moss), has been in an abusive relationship with a man that she somehow escapes from after some amount of time together. Her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), gets her set up with what appears to be some kind of mutual friend, James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid).
Shortly after escaping to her newfound refuge, an agoraphobic Cecilia finds out that her terrifyingly control ex, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has died. Reluctantly she begins to come out of her shell a bit. She soon learns that Adrian commits suicide and has left her a considerable amount of money but she has conditions, such as her mental well being must not come into question and she cannot commit any crimes. This is when we start to see the bigger picture that he is not dead but has found a way to fake his death and technologically “haunt” Cecilia while simultaneously continuing to control/gaslight her in broad daylight. Some of the nuances with this part of the story are done with considerable precision and other are surprisingly clunky in comparison. I will say that as much as we do know about the overall plot of the movie from the trailer, there are parts of the film that feel like they drag on which really hurt the story in my opinion.
Cecilia is seemingly slipping into madness as she believes Adrian is sadistically playing with her since she knows him better than most. Onlookers simply see a battered woman who is seriously struggling to integrate back into “normal” life after fleeing from her toxic relationship. There is a good bit of brilliance to this device as it simply mimics a traditional haunting while using a pseudo-technological fashion for Adrian to conceal his movements. There are moments in the trailer that are not in the film, which I do like because that gives a false sense of knowing too much about the film since you can’t be sure what is and isn’t real, which also goes along with the plot of the film quite well. There are other elements from the trailer that I do think give away just a little too much and ruin what would have been some good surprises for your casual viewer. I’d like to put a little disclaimer here that I’m not a huge douche of Adrian proportions (yes, when you finally really see him he’s a total douche as you would assume) and think that I’m hot stuff for figuring stuff out before a lot of other people do. I’ve watched a lot of movies and anymore it does take a decent amount of misdirection to really throw me. Believe me, its not a selling point because I LOVE not knowing what is going on and experiencing those twists and turns in real time. But when it came to the plot devices in this flick, I was ahead of about 90% of what was going on throughout. Not that it took away from the film, but especially in regards to some of the latter parts of the plot development, I did feel like the story struggled to stay fresh amidst what it had already revealed in trailers.
It was about 45 minutes to an hour into the movie when I first checked the time. I’m not hard and fast on that being a dig on a flick but it didn’t help this one much. I looked down and saw where I was and knowing the run time and that I wasn’t even halfway done, I was a little disheartened. But this was right in the middle of the part where I felt things lingered a bit much. We know from the trailer that Adrian stalks Cecilia in plain sight. Its the bulk of what the film is about and they spoon feed you that in the trailer. So for her to walk around as long as she did, apparently bewildered by what was actually happening, it felt a bit tedious. There were some choices here that set up later plot points but I’m not going to get into them and they also felt really bumbling in real time.
So once everybody thinks Cecilia is full on crazy, which they kind of do and do not have great evidence for at this point, things pick back up. The spiral moves pretty quickly and some bad things happen that get “C” into some legal troubles. This seems to be playing right into the carefully carved out scheme of our antagonist. Getting into the final act of the film we see Cecilia’s character begin to pivot away from being a victim into more of a fighter which is nice to see in her character arc. I did like that the idea of domestic violence being the backdrop as a conversation piece was a solid idea. In the same way that films like “The Babadook” center on examining grief over a lost loved one, I liked the social commentary built into the plot by the nature of Cecilia and Adrian’s relationship. One of the unfortunate problems with the film is also one of the things that makes it well made. Its the old catch 22. There’s a certain amount of disbelief you have to suspend for some of the elements of the film to work, as with most movies. However, they definitely want you to stay in the realm of the possible and not go all the way into supernatural to build the tension. There are times when this is really well applied and there are times when it backfires on some seemingly important plot points. Cecilia’s personality shift doesn’t feel overtly forced but at the same time it also doesn’t seem as organic as the plot would like you to believe. It was definitely a partial struggle in bridging the middle of the film.
So we get to the end and there are some nice twists and turns that bring some much needed credibility back to the story. I’m not going to touch on any of them as they are decently developed and primary to the finale of the film. I will say that by the end of the movie I had re-engaged to about 85% interested in the turnout of the story. I had wavered a bit when I started to become a bit disenfranchised with the heroine. If you don’t totally care about the main character, it hurts the viability of the overall story. But the end roped me back in and I thought it was done up well when everything was concluded. Story wise and character development were the biggest hits this film took in my opinion. I never felt particularly engaged with any of the characters, nor did I really know how everybody fit together. If you wanted to pick at things, you wouldn’t have to get too creative to ask some big questions that hurt a number of scenes and characters. It was just sort of understood that they apparently went together when necessary and didn’t when not. Accompanying some of that confusion was the meandering story line which caused me to pull away from it all quite a bit. I don’t want to be too harsh on the film but my critique falls heaviest on these elements of the film.
Now that I’ve told you where I felt like the film suffered, let me tell you where I thought it did really well. Some of my favorite parts of the flick were the techniques used to create tension off center of the characters. There were just enough things that happened in the background that kept a very eerie way about the entire movie. Even at times the main character or even only character on screen would leave the shot and you weren’t sure what to do with that. Was there something you should be paying attention to that you’re not quite sure what it is in the shot you DO see? Is something happening off camera that I can’t see that I should be? These questions, in my opinion, could have really hurt the movie. But they did such a great job of keeping that creepy factor in check that it elevated things nicely. In addition, the scenes when you know Adrian is there but cannot see him were enhanced by some of the visuals. In the trailer they show a blanket that Cecilia is trying to put back on the bed but it is clearly being stood on by Adrian. It gives you just enough to feel his presence but because he’s not there visually it brings the goosebumps quickly.
I also really enjoyed the camera work. In addition to the shots that should have followed the character but stay fixed on the scenery, you had camera work that seemed to purport itself as potentially a point of view from Adrian’s perspective. What I really appreciated about some of these shots was that they would start in that way and some would finish out by circling back around to reveal the entire setting which let you know it was not the Invisible Man but a regular tracking shot. The fact that there was ambiguity betwixt these two made the guessing game a bit more fun and I thought that the intentionality in filming it that way really brought more of that intense emotion directly to the viewer. Even switching out between camera shots of the story and stationary security cameras at times played nicely with some of the subtle plot points of the film. For the movie being about an Invisible Man, there was a lot of crafty visual work to keep the viewer engaged in meaningful ways.
The other facet of the movie that played well with the juxtaposition of visible/invisible was the sound. Great horror movies rely heavily on sound to help create tension at times. While there were a fair number of jump scares that the music only fell guilty to as well, there were plenty of instances where the music as well as the general sounds in a scene were very specifically applied to give the entire production a much deeper feeling to it. I related that because of some of the superbly finessed camera work accompanied by the tone of the musical state of things at pivotal times there was a great deal of legitimate effort put into the technical aspects of the film that brought a lot of the good back to the overall movie.
Finally there is the fun factor. This is one of those meaty elements that I think the Cinemasters really brings to the table with a lot of heart. There’s a great deal of critics both in profession and in amateur desire to break down a lot of works. While I wish every movie could be equally moving as some of my favorites, that’s just not the way movies work. So we try to be fair in our assessments. Some movies really measure up and make the cut. And other flicks just never should have been made. This movie to me feels like its finds itself squarely in the middle. I was trying to figure out a good letter grade for it as the credits rolled. The way it all played out as a whole film was delightful so I thought, despite some valid faults in my estimation, it was still a better flick than not. I kept thinking that a C+ was the way to go. I argued internally that it could be a B- but there’s something about that C that made it seem most fitting. It was just above the middle of the road. And in the realm of horror movies, above middle of the road is a solid place to be. With the attention Hollywood is putting into some of the more prominent horror franchises these days, its nice to see horror flicks with some real pizzazz to them. This film, though it had some faults in my estimation, was still a highly watchable film and featured some decent twists and turns. I could hear as the people next to me were figuring things out and enjoying the direction AND misdirection of certain plot points. So I felt like the film did still bring a good amount of overall enjoyment. So if you’re in the mood to get a good dose of creepy I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in “The Invisible Man”. It delivers on some really manicured scenes nicely and while there are jump scares, they are on the fewer side which I prefer. There’s enough real creep factor built in that the jumps aren’t too gratuitous and the way everything comes together in the end is highly satisfying. Horror fans will probably not want to miss this one but casual movie fans could probably flip a coin. It seemed to be a popular date movie when I was in the theater tonight so if that’s in the cards I also don’t think you’ll go particularly wrong with this one. In the end I don’t regret seeing it, though I think I may have missed a better opportunity to see “The Way Back” with Ben Affleck instead. But Affleck WAS the bomb in “Phantoms”, yo. This has been your Cinemaster to the North, Adam Peterson, giving you a relatively recent release review.