The cheekily extended final shot of writer-director Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man (★★☆☆☆) is of the sort that invites shrewd reassessment of all that’s gone before. But the most likely reframing of this reframing of H.G. Wells’ classic novel would make less sense than what Saw co-creator Whannell already gives us, updating the sci-fi tale to modern-day stalker suspense.
The film retains a key science fiction element from the book, casting villain Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) as a scientist and “optics entrepreneur” who might have found a way to make himself invisible. That becomes a real roadblock for his architect girlfriend, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss, swinging for the fences), who’s introduced beating a stealthy, though none too hasty, escape from uber-controlling Adrian’s walled oceanside compound. Hiding out on the opposite side of the Bay with friendly cop James (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Euphoria‘s Storm Reid), Cecilia learns that Adrian has died, and breathes easy for a perfunctory moment. But, quickly, she starts to suspect that her abusive tormentor is alive and well, and somehow unseen as he hounds and terrorizes her into madness.
Despite all evidence that Adrian’s a lunatic who’d more likely pull a Dateline and just murder anyone with the nerve to leave him, he apparently decides to toy with Cecilia’s sanity by systematically and invisibly ruining her life. Of course, that’s inefficient and involves a lot of iffy calculation of what Cecilia, James, Sydney, and Cecilia’s mostly supportive sister Alice (Harriet Dyer) might do at any given moment — but it’s twisted, so sure. The problem is that the paranoid gaslighting goes on forever without Cecilia opting for more resourceful defenses than pleading with disbelieving loved ones, “You’ve got to believe me!” (They don’t believe you, Cecilia, try something else.) For too long, Whannell builds scares around loud, sudden noises and slow, quiet breaths, punctuated by pounding blasts of Benjamin Wallfisch’s score, before Cecilia finally, truly takes matters into her own hands.
Suspense gives way to horror in a few abrupt slashes, with the movie providing Saw lifers only one really good kill among the few onscreen deaths. But the hazy plotting supplies ample grist for milling over questions, like how does one character have crime scene photos conveniently at the ready at a meeting he didn’t know he’d be attending? What happened to Officer James’ wife, Sydney’s mother, who doesn’t warrant a throwaway line or even a tearful cutaway to a family photo? And, since wife-mom is so far out of the picture, how do sisters Cecilia and Alice know James again? Because he’s hot as hell and nobody in this slow-fizzing chiller seems to notice.
The Invisible Man is rated R, and opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, Feb. 28. Visit www.fandango.com.
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