The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man ★★★★★

Horror's best works often chill or impact or terrify their audience on more than a single, superficial level. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" may be about the skulking undead, but its observation of the breakdown of the safety of society is just as frightening as shambling corpses. Kubrick's "The Shining," about a perhaps-haunted hotel, is much heavier in its depiction of a crumbling father and family than in its skin-sloughing hags. These genre outings and others that are similarly great feature a surface terror that is bolstered and deepened by something allegorical and, when especially effective, something drawn more closely from the natural than supernatural.

Leigh Whannell's "The Invisible Man," remaking James Whale's Universal classic, functions on that same dual level. The film's narrative skin details the horrors wrought by a man who uses technology to turn himself invisible, making miserable the lives of those who were once close to him. The narrative's gale-cold soul, however, takes its weight from whom the monster chooses to stalk. Here, it becomes an observation of horrors more human than monstrous.

Whannell's protagonist, Elisabeth Moss's Cecilia Kass, has broken free, physically from an abusive lover. She lives life in fear that that lover will track her down; that her life with never be absent of the claustrophobia caused by the lover's mistreatment of her. She is navigating life against the memory of a human monster.

Whannell couples the two sides of his narrative coin with skill that allows his horror to work on both a physical and cerebral-emotional plane. The audience repels from the invisible man while it shrinks back, bearing needle-sharp empathy, with all that Kass experiences.

The narrative is rich, eschewing pulp and most cliches to unfold as something steady, solid, and deep. It is serious without being stolid, and pointed without being alienating.

Composed with subtlety and craft, the film puts a premium on quiet, breathless chills and finely constructed cinema. There are well-timed jump scares to be sure, but the work is at its riveting best when it asks its audience peer into wide, shadowy shots where something may or may not be lurking. Editing, score, design, and performances combine to create a film that stands out quietly and confidently. Moss, by the way, is a marvel.

Completely enveloping and deliciously chilling, "The Invisible Man" is a multifaceted gem that engages with haunting precision. While it may be too early to determine if the film is worthy to stand with the genre's greatest, it is clear that the 2020s have found their first great horror film.

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