The Invisible Man review: Elisabeth Moss as Cecelia

The Invisible Man review: “I saw Elisabeth Moss’ new horror film, and couldn’t stop trembling for hours after”

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Be sure to see this horror movie in daylight, because you really won’t want to be alone in the dark afterwards.

Hot on the heels of critically-acclaimed horrors like Hereditary, Midsommar, Get Out and Us comes The Invisible Man. So far, the film has received some of the most passionate reviews of the year so far – and it’s already scored a cool 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, despite the fact it’s not in cinemas yet.

Naturally, as a dedicated horror fan, I leapt at the chance to attend a press screening. I went into the cinema feeling the usual thrill of excitement that comes with the promise of a good old-fashioned scare. I came out trembling all over, and my hands didn’t stop shaking for some time later. Not because of the violence, or musical spikes, or jump scares (although The Invisible Man features all three). 

No, it’s because this socially-aware horror has found something far more terrifying than the usual monster mash. 

The Invisible Man is based on the 1933 movie of the same name. Fans of the black-and-white original will know that the titular character refers to Dr Jack Griffin, a scientist who is declared missing when he disappears from home for sometime. It soon transpires, though, that the once loving and gentle man has rendered himself invisible using a dangerous drug called monocane – and been driven mad in the process, too. He commits a “few murders, here and there” and slowly becomes the monster everyone believes him to be.

The 2020 film, however, shifts the focus from the transparent monster of old to his very real, very human girlfriend, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss). And, through her eyes and experiences, we are given a villain far more terrifying than Claude Rains’ OG bandage-swathed killer. Because Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a monster from the very beginning. 

Watch The Invisible Man trailer below:

Cecilia’s partner is obsessive, violent, and controlling. That much is made abundantly clear in the first eight minutes, despite the fact that a) there is hardly any dialogue, and b) Adrian is unconscious for most of it.

In almost deathly silence, we follow Cecilia as she slides out of bed in the middle of the night, gingerly moving Adrian’s arm – which he sleeps with flung across her body – to one side as she does so. We see her tiptoe into his office, where she logs into his computer and switches off their vast home’s security systems. We hold our breath as she collects her belongings and changes into a sweater, jogging bottoms and running shoes as quickly and quietly as possible. We, just like Cecelia, jump out of our skins when Adrian shifts in his sleep, seemingly nearing consciousness. And then we are running right along with her, hearts pounding in our chests, as she flees her home in the middle of the night..

Her desperation is potent. Moss, just as she does in The Handmaid’s Tale, is able to convey years of pent-up terror and anguish with just a twitch of her lips, or a shift of her eyes. Everything she does makes us fully aware of the fact that Cecelia is a victim of abuse. She has to get out before it’s too late. Her life is on the line. Because, if Adrian catches her, he will punish her in ways far too horrible for viewers to imagine.

The Invisible Man is really about abuse.

As I say, all of this happens in the first eight minutes of the movie. On paper, it’s even shorter: just 10 words, in fact. Cecilia flees her home in the middle of the night. But it’s that opening, that powerful set-up, which makes the rest of The Invisible Man so compelling.

Without giving too much of the plot away (here at Stylist, we are ever mindful of spoilers), Cecelia goes into hiding and slowly works on rebuilding her confidence. A short while later, she learns that her ex has died by suicide, leaving her a generous portion of his vast fortune. But, as a series of eerie coincidences turns lethal, our protagonist’s sanity slowly begins to unravel.

Could Adrian really still be alive? And, if so, how can Cecelia ever hope to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see?

Ostensibly, The Invisible Man is a horror movie in two parts. Both are brilliant, but it’s the first half – with its quietly powerful observations on domestic abuse, the trauma it inflicts and the scars it leaves behind – that left this reviewer so thoroughly shaken.

Much like Cecelia and those around her, we have no idea if what she’s seeing and experiencing is real. Leigh Whannell uses all his skills as a director to play with his audience, pulling the rug out from underneath us countless times over, and rendering us terrified of… well, of everything and nothing, all at once. Unlike so many horrors, public spaces are not sacred in The Invisible Man. Daylight offers no protection, either. That tiny noise you thought you heard? Not just nothing.

All the while, the music slowly shifts and builds, until the tension is almost unbearable. We begin to see Adrian everywhere, be it the blank corner of a darkened room, an empty armchair, a too-hot frying pan hissing on the stove, or a duvet cover falling to the floor in the middle of the night. 

But, while Adrian’s presence is everywhere, it’s worth noting that – much like Jaws – we rarely ever see our “monster” in The Invisible Man. Honestly, the film is all the better for it. Our imaginations, as ever, are able to concoct far greater terrors when provided with the tools to do so. Plus, y’know, fuck the bad guy: he doesn’t deserve the screen time.

Elisabeth Moss and Oliver Jackson-Cohen in The Invisible Man
Elisabeth Moss and Oliver Jackson-Cohen in The Invisible Man

Of course, a special shout-out must go to Moss. Her performance as Cecelia is utterly seamless, offering us glimpses of the woman she was before she was subjected to years of abuse. 

We feel, rather than see, her warmth, her kindness, her desire to finally be free of Adrian’s tyranny. We desperately want her to succeed in her new life. We want to scream at everyone who tells her she’s imagining things. However, on top of all of this, Moss expertly creates a sense of fear and paranoia so palpable that it swiftly becomes our own. And so, while we want so much to believe her, it becomes almost impossible to tell if Adrian is truly behind the film’s chilling events or not (worry not, film fans: you will be given a definitive conclusion either way). 

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No, The Invisible Man is not your typical horror. With its much slower pace, emotional storyline and deft avoidance of the genre’s more popular tropes, it’s better. And, as Harvey Weinstein is led away in handcuffs, there’s no denying that the timing of this toxic masculinity nightmare is impeccable.

Just be sure to see it in daylight. Because, trust me, you won’t want to be alone in the dark afterwards.

Images: Universal

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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