The Invisible Man (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Terrified by someone invisible

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“The Invisible Man”, which is the contemporary adaptation of the 1897 novel of the same name by H.G. Wells, will unnerve and frighten you for good reasons. While it was initially intended as a mere reboot of James Whale’s 1933 film during its pre-production stage, the movie instead comes to tell its updated story and characters via an opposite viewpoint, and the overall result is pretty refreshing and terrifying in addition to being quite relevant for the ongoing #MeToo era.

At the beginning, the movie shows us a very tense situation not so far from the opening part of “Sleeping with the Enemy” (1991). Having endured many emotional and physical abuses from her possessive and sadistic boyfriend, Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) finally decides to get away from him, and we see how she carefully attempts an escape from his slick modern house located at some remote beach area outside San Francisco. With its sterile ambience coupled with a heavy security system, the house looks more like an insidious fortress isolated from the outside, and that is more than enough for us to understand how desperately Cecilia wants to escape as soon as possible.

When she finally manages to get out of the house, Cecilia looks aimless at first with no one to help her, but she already called for help from her older sister Alice (Harriet Dyer), who soon comes to rescue by her car when Cecilia is nervously waiting on a nearby road. Once she recognizes how serious the situation really is, Alice promptly takes Cecilia away from the spot, and Cecilia subsequently comes to stay at the house belonging to their childhood friend James (Aldis Hodge), a single cop guy who has lived with his adolescent daughter Sydney (Storm Reid).

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Although she is assured that her husband cannot possibly locate her at any chance, Cecilia cannot help but feel nervous from time to time as trying to get accustomed to her new environment. Two weeks have passed since her escape, and nothing much has happened around her, but she is still afraid of that grim possibility of her ex-boyfriend finding where she is at present.

And then something unexpected happens. Cecilia is notified on one day that her ex-boyfriend killed himself not long after she ran away from him, and a letter is subsequently sent from his younger brother, who is a lawyer and also appointed as the executor of his dead older brother’s will. According to the will, Cecilia is going to inherit everything from her deceased ex-boyfriend, and she accepts the conditions for this considerable inheritance without much hesitation while certainly feeling far better than before.

However, as you surely know if you have already watched the trailer of the movie, strange things start to happen around Cecilia not long after that, and she comes to feel quite agitated as a certain possibility dawns upon her. Before his death, her ex-boyfriend was a brilliant optics expert who has a state-of-the-art laboratory in his residence, and it is later turned out that he had worked on the development of a special body suit for invisibility. Is he really dead? And is he actually lurking around her while wearing that special body suit?

Although it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Cecilia’s worst fear turns out to be real (After all, we already discerned that from the very title of the movie, didn’t we?), the movie keeps us engaged while steadily establishing the sense of dread and paranoid around her. As getting terrified more and more, Cecilia tries to get help, but, of course, she only finds herself more isolated from the people who may help her, and we are not so surprised when she is eventually taken to a mental hospital later in the story.

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The movie surely goes all the way after that narrative point as Cecilia confronts more of what has scared and disturbed her, but director/writer Leith Whannell, who previously directed “Upgrade” (2018), wisely chooses to use special effects as little as possible. While there are several obligatory moments to shock and jolt us, they are judiciously preceded by enough accumulation of fear and suspense via silence and emptiness, and its heroine’s increasingly fearful circumstance feels quite palpable to us as a result.

This is surely a typical “woman in danger” movie, but the film constantly emphasizes with its heroine’s viewpoint even while she understandably becomes quite unhinged, and Elizabeth Moss, who has diligently advanced since her memorable performance in acclaimed TV series “Mad Men”, gives a superb performance as fully embodying her character’s desperate struggle for safety and sanity. As one South Korean critic said, Moss’ committed acting is indeed the main special effect of the film, and she is also supported well by a few other main cast members in the film including Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Michael Dorman, Harriet Dyer, Storm Reid, and Aldis Hodge.

In conclusion, “The Invisible Man” is as effective as I expected from its trailer, and I must confess that I was genuinely terrified several times when I watched it at a local theater along with a few other audiences at last night. Although I think the finale is a bit too contrived, it is still a competent shocker with many entertaining elements including the strong performance from Moss, and I assure you that you will get scared as much as you pay for your movie ticket.

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