The Invisible Man
File this one under stop acting so impressed.
And, yeah, there are spoilers ahead . . .
Leigh Whannell’s film The Invisible Man presents an update of the old H.G. Wells novel. The story itself bears little resemblance to Wells’s original story, but that’s hardly surprising. The keynote of the rework is to recast the story as tale of a woman, Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss), who begins to suspect that her abusive ex-boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has faked his death in order torment and regain control of her. I suspect
Wells—a progressive socialist who embraced the idea of equal rights for women—would approve of the feminist slant here.
The gender politics are not the only things to like. Whannell clearly knows his way around a camera, and the result is a good-looking, visually-interesting movie. Moss’s performance is strong, at times even compelling, as she struggles first with trying to adjust to her new-found freedom, then with the uncertainty about her own sanity, and, lastly, with the frustration of not being believed. In this last phase, the movie’s social commentary is particularly trenchant: Adrian’s invisibility makes him a potent symbol of “average guy” abusers everywhere, who get away with their crimes because people simply refuse to see the toxic creep for what he is.
The Invisible Man is, however, far from a good movie, and the reason is simply that Whannell is not as good a screenwriter as he is a director. Oh, the script has its strengths: I like how the beginning drops the viewer right into the midst of the story with Cecelia’s escape without bogging us down in needless explanation, but mostly it presents static two-dimensional characters (Cecelia is the exception) clearly earmarked as good guys or bad guys from the start and who behave in utterly predictable ways. Far worse, the script has plot holes large enough to drive a semi through.
Consider, for instance, the jaw-dropping ineptitude of the finale. Somehow we are supposed to believe that Adrian, who we’ve been told is a master manipulator who understands Cecelia inside and out, is unobservant and thick-witted enough to let her go wondering through his house with no concerns about what she’s up to. And there’s no doubt she had to be gone quite a while here—long enough to locate the invisibility suit that just happens to still be sitting around there somewhere, put it on, and figure out how the damn thing works, too. It never seems to occur to Whannell that an Adrian clever enough to hatch the plot with which he tormented Cecelia is not likely to be dumb enough—even given his massive ego—to wait there for her to sneak back in and cut his throat. That’s not even the biggest problem here, however. It’s the cameras. You know . . . all those damn cameras we saw Cecelia shut off during in the opening scene? In the end, she is clearly counting on the dining room surveillance footage to help sell officials on the idea that Adrian committed suicide. Apparently, she has forgotten (and Whannell is hoping that the viewers will also forget) that there are cameras in all the other rooms, too—cameras that will clearly show her suiting up to kill Adrian—or, at the very least, will show her shutting all cameras down prior to his “suicide.” Either way, she’s going to have a fuck of a lot of explaining to do when the cops pick her up.
Let’s be honest: in the real world, the issue of vigilante justice can be fraught with peril. Most of the time I read about someone taking the law into their own hands it turns out to be some self-appointed watchdog blowing away a “suspicious” black man. So it’s nice that, at least in the fictional and cinematic worlds, we sometimes get the pleasure of seeing a deserving villain get what he had coming. Adrian is a liar, a sadistic bully, and a murderer who deserves what happens to him. That said, Whannell should have taken time and care to deliver the coup de grâce more convincingly. Shoddy plotting is neither frightening nor satisfying.