MOVIE REVIEW: Invisible Man is a nerve-shredding experience
There are no bandages and there are definitely no goofy glasses.
This confident, modern reworking of The Invisible Man owes a lot less to Claude Rains' classic screen monster and much, much more to Alfred Hitchcock.
In paying homage to Hitchcock's suspenseful thrillers, Australian director Leigh Whannell's The Invisible Man is a nerve-shredding experience. You don't dare exhale and relax, because that's when the film will sneak up on you.
Whannell, who also wrote the film, completely up-ends the story of H.G. Wells' invisible monster. Instead of telling the story from his perspective - this time he's a genius optics engineer named Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) - Whannell has turned the story into a disturbingly familiar tale of an abusive relationship.
Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) is Griffin's girlfriend, trapped inside a stunning clifftop mansion with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the sound of crashing waves below anything but soothing.
In the middle of the night, she slowly, methodically makes her escape - though barely.
Not long after, taking refuge with her friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), Cecilia's sister Alice (Harriet Dyer) gives her the news that Griffin is dead, seemingly of suicide.
Cecilia isn't convinced and when she starts to feel like Griffin is watching her and meddling in her life, no one believes her.
In using the idea of an invisible force exerting control over a woman who has been emotionally abused by a former partner, Whannell cleverly frames the real mental anguish experienced by those women, and turns it into a literal nightmare.
It's a terrifying manifestation of the great power imbalance in toxic relationships where the scars aren't always visible bruises - here, the invisible is a real monster and, most significantly, it's a human one.
Moss is absolutely the right person for this unnerving role - her intensity and physical commitment is poured into Cecilia's turbulence. Even the baggage she brings from one of her most famous characters - June in The Handmaid's Tale, another story of female oppression - plays into her character's arc here.
It's a smart and resonant update of a classic story, even if The Invisible Man's pacing can feel uneven at times.
You could argue the Hitchcock influence is more derivative than homage, given the sheer volume of references and techniques Whannell (Upgrade) borrows from the cinematic master, particularly from Vertigo.
There's the San Francisco setting, those sinister crashing waves, the gaslighting and even a shot of the back of Moss's head, her blonde hair twisted in a circular bun, that's a direct lift from Vertigo. This could be the Madeleine Elster prequel.
The pounding, deeply unsettling score by Benjamin Wallfisch is clearly inspired by famed film composer Bernard Herrmann's work for Hitchcock. Meanwhile, in sometimes placing us in the point-of-view of the villain, Whannell evokes the murkiness of cinematic spectatorship, voyeurism and our complicity in the surveillance state.
It's exactly the kind of empathy shifting that Hitchcock used to do so well.
No matter where you land on the homage or derivative fence, there's no denying Whannell's nods to Hitchcock are effective.
You could also easily ignore all that and just enjoy The Invisible Man as a tight, entertaining and visceral popcorn thriller. It works on both levels.
There are compelling action sequences, and potent, chilling set pieces where you know what you can't see is there, which makes it all the more tense as you wait for the reveal you know is coming. Your heart will still jump when it does.
The Invisible Man is in cinemas tomorrow.
Share your movies and TV obsessions | @wenleima