An updated take on the classic HG Wells novel, as well as the 1933 Universal film of the same name, this contemporary reimagining might as well be called “Gaslighting: The Movie” as horror darling Elisabeth Moss battles an abusive invisible ex out for revenge.
In this spoiler-filled free-for-all, the AOAS Squad breaks down the film…
GINA: I walked outta the theatre with a stress headache, but I really enjoyed this movie. At first, I was concerned that the trailer had given up all the key beats, but that proves definitely not to be the case! It is incredibly tense and I’m very grateful for the few misdirections from the trailer. The film has some jarring scares and very strong casting. The representation of the invisible man uses both familiar (and at times hokey) visual indicators, but also it couldn’t have landed at a better time, social climate-wise.
I would have loved to have seen this film in a quiet cinema, rather than with a raucous audience, because much of the suspense relies on the interplay of silence and negative space, and I’m sad to say the regular intervals of cheers and hoots from people around me definitely altered the film’s impact.
LAURA: I agree—talk about a misdirecting trailer (in a good way)! My cinema was dead silent for a change, which I’m definitely happy about because the film’s necessary quiet would have been ruined if my audience had been rowdy.
What a tense ride—my stomach dropped from the first moment Adrian psychologically messes with Cecilia all the way to that excellent, cathartic ending. There are so many moments that really rang true to me: that helpless feeling when you know a partner is lying to you, the quiet judgement from people you trust (that scene where Cecilia’s sister accuses her of being “too stupid” to recognize bad guys gutted me), the self-doubt that sets in when you think it might just be in your head. Elisabeth Moss is incredible as usual, but all the performances are strong. I wish the invisible costume looked less like an X-Men getup, and some of the floating weapons are a little silly, but those are really only minor complaints.
VINCENT: I prefer not to see a film’s trailer beforehand, but this time I’m glad I did. The scene in the trailer where Cecilia tells James that someone is sitting in a slightly indented chair was the perfect primer to add more tension to the film. As soon as Cecilia learned of Adrian’s death, I began straining my eyes to spot hints of an invisible person affecting the background environment.
Overall I was impressed by how many deep-seated fears the film connected with. The fear of being watched. The fear of being mistreated. The fear of being unable to escape bad people and situations. The fear of not being believed. I often think about what I would do if a partner abused me. Would I leave immediately or would I be sucked into staying? I have also thought about what I would do if I was sexually assaulted and no one believed me. In an attempt to reveal the truth, would I begin to act in a way that made people think I’m crazy? Because of the film’s connection to these fears, it sticks with you—haunts you—but its empowering conclusion makes the fear just easy enough to swallow.
LINDSAY: I spent a lot of time thinking “I need to digest this more,” and I don’t know if that’s scathing or flattering. I don’t think I had the same excited positive reaction as everyone else, and that’s probably why I insist on chewing on it. The first act blew me away. I loved not knowing, and how the film uses empty and negative space to force me to stare at nothing with hyper diligence. I love what a great twist that was, to use Whannell’s demon style filmmaking to make us watch for the blowing garments, floating objects, or blankets being ripped off.
I think The Invisible Man lost me with some imperfect plot points that I might otherwise forgive, but couldn’t for such a top-tier cinematic experience. I can buy into the logic of the story, like believing this suit could exist, but I can’t buy into Celia’s decision-making. I also feel like so much is left unclear, which—again—I can’t decide if it this is intentional or to the film’s detriment? Is the “two suits/two killers” reveal a Scream-style twist to explain how Adrian gets from Celia’s place to Adrian’s mansion without a car or is it a sloppy plot detail? I dunno.
JOE: Hmm…I just assumed it is Tom who attacks Cecilia after she hails the Uber/Lyft, and not Adrian. There’s certainly no confirmation, though.
Like you, Lindsay, I actually prefer the quieter first half of the film to its more action-packed second. The more contrived logistical hoops (or gaps?) don’t bother me because movies invariably fall apart if you pick at them too much. So much of the first half feels like the horrors of real life where women are regularly and routinely dismissed and disbelieved that I am more than willing to let logic gaps slide.
There’s something incredibly powerful about the film’s timely and topic messaging and Moss is just so damn good as a trauma and domestic abuse survivor that I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. When the film transitions into more conventional action fare, it’s still good, but its bombastic hallway fight scenes and car chases are more rote and familiar. The best stuff is the early stuff.
VALESKA: Totally agree with Joe—while I definitely enjoy the film as a whole, I find the first half absolutely riveting. I could not breathe for the first ten minutes of the film during Cecilia’s escape. It’s infrequent that we see films truly and sensitively grapple with the PTSD that results from long-term intimate partner violence and gaslighting. There are so many small touches that are absolute perfection, such as Cecilia’s fear of leaving the house, the moment when she is triggered by a jogger, and her insistence that her sister not visit (and potentially blow her cover).
The conversation she has with Emily and James regarding Adrian’s treatment of her—his total control over her physical appearance, movements, and even her inner thoughts is so well done in terms of writing and performance. Honestly, the film would have been spectacular as low-key psychological horror film without the swift confirmation that Adrian is, in fact, still alive and stalking her, though of course that’s its prime selling point.
I do love the twist of having the invisible man be a “leader in the field of optics”—it’s a fresh and modern take and I appreciate the innovative suit design, though I feel that we see a little too much of it (and its “random” flashes of visibility were a little too conveniently timed, but that’s a small quibble). Overall, a highly enjoyable experience and one that I’ve enjoyed in theatres twice so far.
GINA: Few actors pull off the quivering, wild-eyed desperate act as well as Elisabeth Moss does. She always pulls me in. And I love the easy and close dynamic between Cecilia, James (Aldis Hodge), and his daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid)—all three actors really nail their relationships to one another. There is such warmth there.
Didn’t really care much for Cecilia’s sister, Emily, but that’s not necessarily a reflection on Harriet Dyer. There simply isn’t enough in her personality to hold on to, really, until that restaurant scene. I think we’ll all probably agree that Adrian’s brother, Tom, is well played though; Michael Dorman nails that unsettling, simpering look that Cecilia describes as “a jellyfish” (guffaws all around on that line).
LAURA: Elisabeth Moss (except for the whole unfortunate Scientology thing) is one of my favourite actresses in the game right now, and I’ve been waiting for her to do a straight-up horror ever since I saw her in Us. She’s in nearly every shot of the movie, and her character isn’t particularly talkative, so her facial expressions and body language do so much of the heavy lifting. She does this combination of strength and vulnerability in such an authentic way.
I also thought the supporting performances were very good (when did Storm Reid get so tall?? She’s making me feel old), particularly Hodge as James. He’s great at conveying the need to be a supportive friend despite internal skepticism and the difficulties that come with that commitment when you have loved ones to protect.
Also, he is super hot.
VINCENT: I don’t really have anything negative to say about any of the performances. I thought all the actors portray emotions expertly, often in extremely subtle ways. Both Hodge and Dyer manage to intertwine expressions of concern with other emotions such as skepticism and anger.
Like Gina, one of my favorite performances of the film is Dorman’s Tom. His role in the film is a rollercoaster. His first appearance feels faintly sinister, but not sinister enough to let the audience know if he is a true threat, or even an important character. In his second appearance he completely convinced me that he is a victim of Adrian, just like Cecilia, which made me completely doubt my first perception of him. Tom, of course, ends up being a terrible person, but I was truly on his side for a hot second. His role is to gaslight the audience, and he pulls it off perfectly.
Elisabeth Moss is fantastic too, but I feel like that’s a given.
LINDSAY: Elisabeth Moss, queen of the tight lip single eye quiver. A goddess. But yeah, she does an excellent job, often acting with nothing. She passes seamlessly through comparable archetypes, being Sarah Connor and Miranda Grey on a dime. She has a lot of work to do to make floating knives and phantom punches work, but she does it.
The supporting cast is also really fun. A huge thank you to whomever cast Aldis Hodge. Oliver Jackson Cohen didn’t get a ton to do and I am still unsure what is up with his voice, but if it is him delivering that janky ADR “surprise,” then, hell yeah, dude.
JOE: It’s fascinating to me that so many of you are enamoured with Dorman! Perhaps it’s just because I’ve seen him using his real life Aussie accent when I was living Down Under, but I could hear him straining to rein it in with every line.
Undoubtedly the film lives and dies on Moss’ performance and, like pretty much every film, she’s amazing (I can already imagine the hand wringing that will accompany her inevitable oversight during awards season next year). But seriously, this performance is all about her teeth to me. Cecilia virtually never has a closed mouth; it’s as though she uses those pearly whites as a first line of defence and I love it!
VALESKA: Elisabeth Moss is my cinematic wife and I adore her in literally everything, so obviously I’ve been raving about her performance since first seeing this film. I don’t want to just repeat what everyone else has said about the other (also superb) performances by the rest of the cast, but I will agree with Laura about Hodge—a very good friend of mine refers to him as “Hot Cop” whenever they discuss the film, and he’s not wrong! Everyone was fabulous and the relationships between the characters are well-acted.
Technical (Set, Lighting, Direction, Writing)
GINA: The film definitely relies on some gothic influence, particularly with the prevalence of enclosed spaces that reflect character psychology. I like how both James’ and Adrian’s homes are both labyrinthine in their layouts: one spacious and airy with glass outer walls and a serene view of the ocean, a veiled attempt to suggest he has nothing to hide; the other a simple suburban home, cozy and comforting like a hug from a trusted friend. Yet both are built as multi-level structures to enhance action and make interactions fresh in the interior locations that we return to again and again. We’re trapped in these spaces with Cecilia: attics, basements, locked cells; even a fully booked fancy restaurant quickly becomes alienating. In turn, Cecilia is forced inward into an even more restricting mental space.
A few technical things bothered me, one being the long swirling aerial take of Cecilia in James’ kitchen that reminds me of I Know What You Did Last Summer when Julie spins in the street. It is a bit too farcical. And that paint washed off the invisible suit very quickly… Also, the knife in the ziplock bag? Hey, maybe DON’T touch that, Cecilia, ‘kay? A friend of mine also raised a good point about taking Adrian’s phone when she finds it because the photos he took of her sleeping could offer proof that something is awry… Just saying, there are things that needed more consideration.
Plus, some of the writing has weak spots that needed a bit more work too: both Emily and James are so quick to abandon Cecilia! Granted, James is acting out of concern for his daughter and didn’t witness anything, but Emily doesn’t think to question the overdramatic content of the email that she believes her sister sent her? I mean, given what she saw when she picked up her sister on the side of the road (Adrian’s brutal temper and the fact that her car window was destroyed) and, you know, that she hasn’t been able to access Cecilia easily for some time because of her controlling relationship… You’d think she would give her own sister’s denial of the email a bit more deference (it coulda been hacked, you don’t know!).
Glad that Cecilia’s dog doesn’t die though. PHEWF.
VINCENT: I really like the openness of Adrian’s house. The big windows invite people to look into the lives of those inside. It feels like at any time someone could have easily witnessed the abuse Cecilia suffered if they had only bothered to look. The willful ignorance of her abuse through a refusal to look at what is happening in this transparent house parallels Cecilia’s struggle to be believed throughout the film.
LAURA: The way this movie uses silence and empty space reminds me a lot of the fantastic Under The Shadow, which also involves an invisible force terrorizing a woman. There’s a lot of shots in The Invisible Man that are just a touch too wide so as to invite our eyes to travel to a chair, or a dark corner, and wonder what’s lurking there. It’s really effective and tense and creepy.
Like I mention above, I think the writing is really strong, especially how others react to Cecilia’s plight. The way her inner circle of friends and her sister treat her as an abuse victim—with obvious care and concern, but with a touch of “get over it already” exasperation, is so true and accurate. I’d read that Leigh Whannell asked Elisabeth Moss to consult the script to make sure everything ran true to a female POV, and it really shows.
LINDSAY: This is where The Invisible Man lost me. The direction is fun, and the second and third acts are very Upgrade, especially with the action sequence in the facility. I think it’s cool that Whannell has his own signature style and shots (the camera following a face as it slams to the ground—you know the one).
Again, the negative space and subtle spooks in the first act are AMAZING. That kitchen fire scene is so incredible because there is almost nothing to suggest there’s anyone there, but you KNOW someone might be, and then you start to question your own read of the situation, which is just fantastic work.
The writing really loses me in some key areas, and I am already rolling my eyes at myself for the nitpick but… they let the cop friend whose friend is the murder victim handle the perp, also his friend, interview alone? They ask a woman locked in an asylum to sign legal documents? How is Emily related to James? Are they friends? Is Emily a lawyer? She seems to know a lot about wills and estates. So Cecilia has agoraphobia but hits up the law office in the next scene and it’s NBD? Cecilia is desperately trying to collect evidence to prove that her ex is still alive, then when she finds his phone with photos of her sleeping, she just leaves it there? Why was there a knife in the Ziploc? To get her fingerprints on it? Because he puts it in her hands and the suit shouldn’t leave fingerprints. How did he rinse that paint off? How was he getting in and out of the attic? How does he seem to walk through walls and make no sounds? Did he learn kung fu before making the suit? Does it make him faster? WHERE IS THE SHOT OF HIM BECOMING VISIBLE BECAUSE OF THE RAIN?
What I’m saying is, I am a nitpicker and I refuse to blame myself. I am honestly not looking for your “becauseeeeeee, the paint doesn’t stick to fiber optic mini screens and we didn’t see the passage of time,” answers. My point is simply that I felt unsure enough to be a bit perturbed.
JOE: I think all of Lindsay’s issues are fair and just, but I went into the film prepared to hand wave away a lot of inaccuracies or plot holes, so they don’t bother me much. Perhaps this is because I was just so friggin’ glad that Whannell doesn’t spend a significant amount of time dissecting how the invisibility suit worked (Adrian is a genius and…cameras!). I can definitely understand why it’s tempting to pull the thread on the issues that don’t quite work, but as I mentioned earlier, the same can be said for most horror films.
One element that I do want to heap praise on is the construction of James’ house. The film was shot in Australia to stretch the limits of a small budget, but the houses there look nothing like North American houses. So according to friend of the site Ariel Fisher, James’ house is actually a set that Whannell and his crew built, with extra space to emphasize how open and vulnerable Cecilia is (consider the size of that enormous kitchen).
Amusingly enough, Adrian’s palatial house porn is a real mansion, not a set. Rich people, they’re alike all over the world.
VALESKA: I agree with the vast majority of the plot nitpicking above, but I do want to point out that the knife in the attic already has Cecilia’s fingerprints on it—it is taken from the counter after she uses it to chop mushrooms, just before the kitchen fire. This occurs during a small, very quick moment that is easily missed, but Adrian takes it so that he had the option of framing her for murder later on, presumably. This marks the first visual confirmation that the invisible man exists outside of Cecilia’s imagination, and it’s very early in the film.
Memorable Setpieces & Scares
GINA: There are definitely a few scares that got me, the first being the paint dump from the attic entrance scene. Yup, it got me, and I jumped in my seat, even though I should have anticipated something at that moment. Empty space gets a lot of play in this movie, but along with that comes the pregnant pause that generally keeps you primed for the jumps. And it leaves you guessing at EVERY pause over unoccupied space in the frame.
Also: that restaurant knife scene is smooth, glorious, and totally gasp-inducing. I loved it.
At a certain point though, I started anticipating the shocks. The reveal of who’s in the invisi-suit at James’ house after that one scuffle is visible a mile away (or, I assume others felt that way; his character is set up pretty clearly as a proxy), and the scene near the end with Adrian and the knife is something the audience is cheering for at that point.
VINCENT: I usually don’t have anything to write about in this portion of Squad Talks, but I definitely have something this time around: the opening sequence!
The movie begins in tense silence as Cecilia puts her plan of escape into action. It feels as if even the slightest sound will put her into danger. I cringed as she slowly zipped her duffle bag. I’m someone who loves to snack at the theatre, but I kept the food out of my mouth during this scene in fear of disturbing Cecilia’s escape (and my fellow moviegoers). However, I was still holding a cup of dipping sauce in my hand in anticipation of when I could go back to crunching on my snacks. When Cecilia’s foot hits that metal dog food bowl and it skids loudly across the floor, I jumped and almost spilled sauce all over myself. I’m not immune to jump scares, but I don’t fall for them easily, either. Having such an intense scene so early in the film impressed me and set my mood for the rest of the viewing experience.
LAURA: There were audible gasps in my audience during that dinner scene, which I was absolutely NOT expecting (I also didn’t anticipate it would turn out so bloody and horrifying). I think some of the film’s later fight scenes, with the gun floating in midair as Adrian holds it, look a bit awkward, but the knife in the restaurant is perfectly executed; it’s definitely the most effective use of the “invisible man holds floating object” trope. It is so scary because it is so brief—we get a quick look at that knife, and only have time to think “oh no WHAT” before it slashes Emily’s neck.
Another great moment is the scene where Adrian, in his invisibility suit (I, too, love that the film doesn’t hammer us over the head with details of how the suit worked—it’s not that kind of movie and it doesn’t need to be), turns up the heat on Cecilia’s eggs. The static shot, coupled with the rapidly escalating kitchen fire that both Cecilia and Sydney have no idea is happening, is such an effective tension-builder.
LINDSAY: I’ll echo my buds above. I was drinking hot coffee, wearing a white t-shirt and the dog bowl jump almost made for a messy situation. It feels like such a common nightmare, trying to escape somewhere and just barely missing your chance. I also love the bit where Cecilia’s getting ready and the shot pans to an empty hallway while the score swells. Right out of the gate, you’re questioning whether you see anything in empty shots. I’ve never been in Celia’s circumstance, but I was right there with her, breathing through each step, mentally ticking off “cash, yes, passports, yes, sweatpants, of course.” It is such an effective way to start the movie and launches you right into the tension.
The kitchen scene I think is my favourite of the entire movie. You can’t even really tell what’s happening and it feels like that complaint people have about demon movies where the demon always starts with small scares, before escalating, for no apparent reason. This kicks that complaint in the teeth because Adrian would start with small scares to mess with Celia, for very specific reasons. I love that. I also really like the scene where Celia thinks she sees someone, but it’s just the bust in Sydney’s room. It reminds me of that scare in Gerald’s Game where Carla Cugino vaguely sees a figure, and convinces herself it’s nothing. That’s another nightmare I’ve had, so here it lands really well for me.
JOE: Yes to both the opening and the restaurant dinner scenes! It’s amusing to me that they are so effective for all of us considering they’re polar opposites: one is deliberately stretched out and excruciatingly tense; the other is brief and brutal, the kind of “blink and you’ll miss it” moment of violence. It’s proof that Whannell thought long and hard about not only varying his methods, but what would be most effective at different moments in the story.
But seriously, no one is going to raise that 12 point turn when Cecilia escapes from James’ house and calls the Uber/Lyft driver? Watching that nice man try to make banter as he turns the wheel, and turns the wheel, and turns the wheel had me flipping out in the theatre anticipating a repeat of the opening scene when Adrian punches through the car window. The fact that nothing ever happens (an anti-scare, if you will)? <chef’s kiss>
VALESKA: I agree with everyone above but WHAT ABOUT THE SHEET, YOU GUYS? The tug as she tries to pull it back onto the bed, and then those footprints move toward her so agonizingly slowly? My blood ran cold.
GINA: When Adrian has Cecilia over for dinner, offers her that spread, and she chooses steak? I immediately thought: “Steak knife. It’s all over, baby.” And when Adrian leans in close when Cecilia is tearing up, begging him to confess to her, and he lets on that he’s guilty with that one word reveal (“surprise”)? I was gritting my teeth SO damned hard.
The ending could only go in one direction, really, but it is still pretty satisfying to have that vengeful release of empathic frustration, rage, and stress for Cecilia’s situation. And I’m happy that she and her dog are reunited as she departs.
I mourned a little for Cecilia and James’ friendship though; I feel like it’ll suffer because of James’ inner conflict over the way in which Adrian meets his end.
VINCENT: I love both the twist of Tom being in the invisibility suit and Cecilia’s final revenge. I don’t think I would have been able to enjoy the film if Cecilia hadn’t killed Adrian in the end. As I mentioned in my overall thoughts, Cecilia’s triumph is what makes all of the film’s stress, emotion, and anxiety tolerable. If The Invisible Man left us with any doubt of Adrian’s guilt, or of his finality, I would have gone crazy—it would have just been too bitter an ending to handle.
LAURA: With all that shit Cecilia went through I was STOKED that she finally exacted revenge on Adrian in the end. I too would have been disappointed if Cecilia hadn’t gotten some sort of last crack at him, and damn is it ever a great one. She kills him in exactly the same way he abused her—methodically, violently, using emotional manipulation, and with a mastery of his technology (love that little moment where she steps out of the security camera’s line of sight and immediately stops fake-crying).
My only criticism of the ending is that the whole issue of Cecilia being in prison for murder is wrapped up pretty abruptly. Like, would she have been able to get back to her normal life so quickly? It’s not really important in the vast scheme of things, but it did take me out of the film for a minute.
LINDSAY: I mean, I am just so happy to see Laura also have a nitpick. The ending is exactly what it needs to be: Cecilia harnessing the power that Adrian used to torture her as a means of exacting revenge. Having James listen makes almost no sense, aside from the need for his “testimony” (since the existence of an invisibility suit was used to get her out of one murder charge, I assume it would be used to get her into another).
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter if Celia has any more legal or money troubles; her goal is to rid herself of Adrian and be free of him, and she accomplishes that, no matter what comes next. It is satisfying, which we needed.
JOE: The ending is arguably the greatest leap of logic in the entire film, so suspension of disbelief is key. At this point, you’re either firmly on board with Cecilia’s journey or you’re simply waiting for the film to end. If it’s the former, then you’re likely part of the cheering section of the theatre when Cecilia steps out of camera frame and drops the ruse, as Laura described. If you’re part of the latter, you’re probably wondering about the logistics of how Cecilia will explain leaving the house so quickly or even what happened to the baby (does she abort? Does she keep it?).
It’s honestly a bit silly, but that hardly matters because it is so fucking cathartic to watch Cecilia take down her abuser using his own techniques. Let’s not forget that this is also revenge for Emily’s death because it’s the exact same way Adrian dispatched her earlier in the film.
At the end of the day, The Invisible Man is a secret rape-revenge film and that means that this is the only way Whannell could have ended the film. Watching Moss strut out of the house with the invisibility suit safely tucked into her bag and a satisfied look on her face? It feels like vindication.
VALESKA: Agreed. No matter how much disbelief my brain needed to suspend, the film ends exactly the way that my heart needed it to. Cecilia’s facial expression the moment she is out of the security camera’s sight-line is one of the most relatable things I have ever seen. I’ve never been able to get revenge on my abusers, so Cecilia’s poetic and elegant vengeance offers some fine catharsis.
And that DRESS!
The Invisible Man is now playing in theatres.