criticism beyond a shadow of a doubt

UNIVERSAL MOSS-TER

Invisible Man is the result of a strange equation. There is the novel by HG Wells which has given dozens of adaptations, notably in the cinema, from the cult The invisible Man from James Whale in 1933 to the unloved Hollow Man by Paul Verhoeven in 2000. There is the Universal studio, which wanted to relaunch the Universal Monsters gallery with an extended universe of blockbusters, but buried everything and in particular a new invisible man played by Johnny Depp, following the failure of The Mummy. Finally, there is Blumhouse Productions, a low-budget, high-profit genre film factory.

The meeting between the three was conducive to yet another little tasteless horror film, a cash pump programmed to appease a large audience with a formula as basic as that of Nightmare Island, to quote the latest Blumhouse. The first nice surprise is here: Invisible Man is nothing like a transparent film, the fruit of an automatic generator of scenes and ideas. Leigh Whannell has a real story to tell, which is first of all that of a character before being that of dollars.

By focusing his film not on the invisible man himself, but on the character of Elisabeth Moss, to ultimately tell a tense dramatic thriller more than a classic horror film, the director and screenwriter avoids the pitfalls of repetition, the debauchery of special effects and the photocopied product without any personality.

Invisible Man, but visible discomfort

MAD MAN

The dry, tense, brilliantly staged introduction is more than evocative: even before being invisible, this man is already a diffuse, opaque, pervasive threat, like a predator capable of leaping from darkness or weighing on a territory a priori saw. That’s all the intelligence ofInvisible Man, who uses the motif of invisibility to stage the slow drift of a traumatized and abused woman. If she manages to believe in this invisible man, it is because she already lives in the perpetual terror of this presence, imprinted in her mind. She is haunted by this man.

The toxic masculine has already been exploited in the more or less free adaptations of HG Wells, and particularly in Hollow Man, most Invisible Man has a precise angle of attack. Here, the invisible is not a man who slips more or less in spite of himself towards the inhuman, consumed by this power of which he is finally a victim. He is a pure psychopath, in full control of himself, of his world and of this faculty.. This change of point of view, which will probably be stupidly reduced in the MeToo era, was the best possible decision given the sum of variations on the subject.

It is this idea that drives the whole film, and imposes the dramatic tempo while serving as a suspense engine. The fear is not that of the stranger, of the unknown, but on the contrary that of an evil and male far too familiar and intimate not to be perfectly credible for the heroine. Leigh Whannel exploits this principle in his staging which, at first, relies less on the appearance of the invisible man via the usual effects. The director stretches the shots, expands the time, and confronts his character and spectator with discomfort and doubt in the face of an a priori empty setting. A corridor, a bedroom, a living room then become blank pages, where the contagious anguish of this woman is written.

photo, Elisabeth Moss

“I’m not crazy you know”

KNIVES DRAWN

In this, Invisible Man refuses the crudest effects of the genre, preferring silence to sound effects, false tranquility to spectacular overcut, and discreet tension to strong jumpscares. The brutal energy of sound Upgrade ends up in a scene or two, but Leigh Whannel adopts here a much more icy approach, letting the strength of its narrative and its actress (Elisabeth Moss, unsurprisingly excellent) lead the dance.

The power of certain scenes will be all the more beautiful, emerging with a certain fury in this insidious and deceptively calm nightmare. The horror takes the form of an electric shock in an attic, a bedroom or a public place, causing an explosion of physical or psychological violence that the heroine suffers as much as the spectator. The director intelligently plays with the expectations of the genre lover and the effects of surprise, which are not based solely on classical effects.

In these moments, Leigh Whannell’s sense of cutting and direction is unstoppable. No need to press on an appearance or an access of violence with sensational music or an accelerating montage: between an image too short not to let the imagination drift and panic take over, and another too long so as not to force you to face the horror in all its power, the filmmaker definitely proves its value. Insidious: Chapter 3 nothing to be ashamed of, Upgrade seduced by its playful violence, but Invisible Man is a coming of age film.

photo, Elisabeth Moss

Murder weapon and tear

THE INFERNAL PURSUIT

Most Invisible Man Although it starts with a bang, and holds up during a very solid first part, it drifts over the course of the plot. This is particularly evident in the final stretch, which is almost divided into three climaxes interspersed with more or less long ellipses. The narration, so far very clear, gets lost in a series of adventures, confrontations, pursuits and explanations which seem to follow a completely different pattern.

The film not only seems too long for its own good (a good two hours), but suffers from a certain imbalance in its final act. Endless minutes are spent in a rainy parking lot for yet another dispensable confrontation, when the true and ultimate climax is processed oddly quickly given the stakes, and the value of the scene to the heroine. Multiple images and patterns are repeated, sometimes within the same scene; sometimes to make sense, sometimes to deliver an easy dose of action and thrills. If Leigh Whannell seems in full control of her story at first, the identity of the film is diluted as the resolution approaches, pushing Invisible Man in more expected places.

photo, Elisabeth Moss

Follow Man

The ending illustrates this problem well. It is logical for the heroine and this theme, but it is difficult not to regret the effects that are too strong, in the staging, the writing and even the acting by Elisabeth Moss. Until then in the service of history, the show then seems to have definitely taken precedence over the rest, in a final movement that seems very coarse compared to the rest.

Invisible Man starts strong and will unfortunately have a hard time staying the course, the fault in particular of a few risky script choices. Not enough to see it as a failure, but simply a partly missed opportunity given the talents gathered and the fascinating subject.

French poster

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