Whenever I start writing practically anything these days, I always feel my writer voice urging me to connect it to current events, because what’s happening in the world right now is far more interesting than any movie, television show, or piece of music I could possibly be writing about. Though this point in history is undeniably monumental, living in it is incredibly stressful and exhausting. But the temporary closing of many movie theaters due to the current pandemic has resulted in a relatively slow year in terms of new movie releases, robbing me of my preferred form of escapism. Of course, with several streaming services at my disposal, I could always look back in time to find great movies. But perhaps I don’t have to look too far back. Perhaps I only have to go back to February, just about a month before lockdowns swept the U.S., to find one of the finest psychological thrillers I’ve seen in recent memory, The Invisible Man.
The Invisible Man follows Cecilia, played by the incredible Elisabeth Moss, after her escape from the house of her abusive tech mogul boyfriend. But even after his apparent suicide, she still encounters a force haunting her life, which she believes to be her boyfriend who’s found a way to become invisible. After her far-fetched theory leaves her discredited and abandoned, it’s up to her to protect herself and her loved ones, discover the truth, and get vengeance.
I wasn’t too interested in this movie when it came out, because, to me, that plot sounded a tad campy, and frankly I wasn’t expecting a Blumhouse movie to do anything impressive with it. But the creators of this film make the concept work exquisitely well with a smart modern spin and this classic story and some even smarter filmmaking techniques.
That latter quality is what I appreciated most during the first half of this film. The camera is used in ways unconventional to most mainstream thrillers, and it’s effective in ramping up tension and creating a creepy perspective. The lethargic pans and unflinching still shots leave you canning the frame, looking for the next development that the film delays to amazing effect, keeping you at the edge of your seat with your senses on red alert. And because you know an ‘invisible man’ is watching the characters on screen, the camera often makes the audience feel like the stalkers, upping your discomfort in a good way. The first couple of scenes would be great on their own, but the fantastic camerawork elevates them massively.
Notice how I’ve restricted this praise to the first half of the movie. The opening sequences do such an astounding job of hooking you and setting the mood that it was disappointing to see this movie become more and more uninspired as it went on. Don’t get me wrong, the story continues to build in a satisfying way and stays plenty engaging throughout the entire runtime, but it becomes so focused on action and shock that it loses the creative and bold cinematography that made it stand out to me.
First and second halves aside, what really makes this one of the best films of the year is the core message it very successfully conveys. The Invisible Man is a harrowing metaphor for how gaslighting leaves abused women feeling abandoned and desperate. Regardless of whether or not you’re not interested in metaphorical meanings, however, this is one of the most worthwhile and thrilling watches of 2020.