Video: ‘The Invisible Man’ review: Elisabeth Moss vs. a psycho-stalker-invisible ex-boyfriend

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The “subtle secret of invisibility”: That’s how H.G. Wells described his title character’s ace in the hole in the 1897 serial (and, later, novel) “The Invisible Man.” That secret has been exploited subtly as well as crassly in the movies, from the 1933 Claude Rains version to the pervy Paul Verhoeven-directed Kevin Bacon vehicle “Hollow Man,” a generation ago.

The latest film version loosely adapting the Wells story exploits it both ways, subtly and crassly. It works, thanks largely to a riveting and fearsomely committed Elisabeth Moss mining writer-director Leigh Whannell’s stalker scenario for all sorts of psychological nuance.

In the latter stages of this slightly attenuated two-hour thriller, “The Invisible Man” decides to lay on the carnage, some of it dramatically effective, some not. But getting there, the film confines the viewer to a surprisingly realistic and often punishing head-space, in a story of a woman stalked by her abusive, controlling ex-boyfriend. He’s clearly a student of “Gaslight,” as is Whannell.

Two minutes into the picture, we’re in the grip of a tight, suspenseful overture. In bed with her optics entrepreneur lover (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), the budding architect Cecilia (Moss) hatches a plan for her escape: Poison her abuser and flee the modernist fortress-like oceanside compound, somewhere near San Francisco. (The movie, made for an efficient $9 million, was filmed mostly in Australia.)

It works, it seems, and news of her tormentor’s suicide follows shortly after. “You’re safe. He’s gone,” comforts Cecilia’s sister (Harriet Dyer). Staying temporarily with her policeman friend (Aldis Hodge) and his college-bound daughter (Storm Reid), Cecilia wonders if she’s losing her mind. She’s terrified of leaving the house, but senses a presence within it. In one shot recalling “Paranormal Activity,” an ordinary kitchen turns sinister with a knife that goes missing and a skillet of bacon suddenly catching fire.

Whannell lights a slow fuse in “The Invisible Man,” and Moss follows it every step of the way. This movie has no interest in scientific exposition. from the screenwriting software labeled “Blah Blah Blah.” It’s more concerned with an accumulating atmosphere of dread.

As with Clarice in “The Silence of the Lambs,” Cecilia’s seeming voyeurs and predators are everywhere. A job interview with a smarmy architect leads to evidence that her ex-boyfriend is not dead yet. In Whannell’s film’s first and terrifically startling burst of violence (no spoilers), Cecilia’s fate as a victim of a monstrously clever blackmailer appears sealed. Her nemesis deploys his cloak of invisibility for somewhat more frightening purposes than Oberon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” ever did, let alone Harry Potter and the gang.

I don’t know if I’d call “The Invisible Man” a good time; one home-invasion sequence in particular, in which the policeman is nearly killed, was rough enough to pull me out of the movie, not further in. Moss, however, is marvelous at delineating the interior devastation of Cecilia’s nightmare throughout.

Postscript: You can skip seeing “The Invisible Man” at a Dolby Atmos-equipped theater, since the Sensurround-style rumbling and shaking only cheapens the film’s storyline about surviving a physically abusive relationship. Without the fake realism, though, it’s worth seeing.



3 stars

MPAA rating: R (for violence and language)

Running time: 2:04


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