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The Invisible Man

Released 2020. Director: Leigh Whannell

THIS IS NOT A REMAKE OF THE INVISIBLE MAN starring Claude Rains in 1933. Though it shares the same title, this new movie has nothing to do with the novel by H.G. Wells. What we have here is a contemporary story that fits right into the zeitgeist of the times, a response to the #MeToo movement.

Out of the inky blackness of the night, in a high-tech luxury home perched by the sea, Cecilia quietly slips out of bed careful not to wake her partner Adrian. She has a bag ready for this planned escape as she runs for her life.

For those who remember Sleeping with the Enemy starring Julia Roberts in 1989, this opening is not just similar, it’s like a rehash. Both women plan their careful getaway in the night, out of a mansion by the sea to flee an abusive relationship. You know she won’t get far before the man finds her and it’s not gonna be pretty.

We get the first hint of the kind of man Cecilia is so afraid of when Adrian catches up with her and smashes her car window – with his bare hand – before the car speeds away.

Traumatised by her experience, Cecilia suffers from anxiety and depression. She shelters like a hermit in the home of cop friend James. Even stepping outside to the mailbox is a distress. What Cecilia never expected is the news of Adrian’s suicide, and that he’s bequeathed her millions.

But the nightmare isn’t over. Cecilia has a feeling she’s being watched, even when she’s alone in the house. She thinks there’s someone in there with her. Her belongings are misplaced. She has recurring drowsiness and disorientation as if being drugged. Is she crazy and just imagining Adrian is still alive? Or are her suspicions justified, even though nobody believes her?

She's not crazy and we know that. The Invisible Man is not a psychological thriller where we question the heroine’s sanity but a physical thriller in more than one sense of the word. We’re talking here about a lot more than graphic physical confrontations in which Cecilia is attacked at home, flung on the floor, dragged around and bashed, pulled by the hair and strangled but the very physicality – or the lack of it – of the aggressor is in the spotlight, so to speak.

How do you fight back against someone you cannot even see? Leigh Whannell cranks up the tension and stages these scenes expertly, no doubt harnessing his experience in the suspense and horror genres where he cut his teeth. Cecilia’s confrontations with an unseen assailant are scarily realistic. You get the feeling Cecilia is really wrestling with an invisible man, and Elisabeth Moss is not simply acting on her own. Whannell’s skills is like a magician directing your attention to what he wants you to see at any point in time, so that you get the full visual wallop and you're swept along with the action before you get a chance to poke any holes. Watch out for kitchen knives that appear out of thin air.

Whannell is also unafraid of pushing his story a few steps down a dark alley. Approaching the 2-hour mark, there are a couple of times where the movie could’ve ended, yet Cecilia finds herself more battles to fight. If Whannell is putting his leading lady through an endless torture regiment it’s for a good reason. Cecilia is a heroine of unusual capacity, one endowed with an inner strength once she bypasses her fear. Her survivor status is reinforced with every nasty situation she conquers.

A movie clearly made to be taken in the #MeToo context, Cecilia’s victory is a stab at empowerment, a fantastical, extreme fictionalisation of a woman overpowering the subjugation of a man in an unfairly controlling and advantageous position.

In spite of a final act of justice, which in cinematic terms, delivers a resounding conclusion to avenge the plight of an abused woman, a secondary, sobering message taints the happy ending. The movie’s title, as it turns out, is not entirely accurate. The predator who terrorises his prey is not a singular entity. For every man that inflicts fear and takes physical liberty with a woman, there are those who know and look away or even assist. The enablers are just as destructive and culpable, whether they’re invisible or not.

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