The Cougar Reviews: ‘The Invisible Man’
“The Invisible Man” begins as a horror-drama and eventually becomes a horror-thriller, with each part being uniquely competent and the connective thread between them surprisingly strong, but the last sixth of the movie feels tacked-on as the movie throws one too many curveballs, leaving what could’ve been a satisfying ending into something contrived that undermines the movie we’ve just seen with a dumb moral quandary.
The movie follows Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) who escapes her abusive partner, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and hides out with a friend of hers, Detective James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid). Two weeks later, Cecilia finds out that Adrian has killed himself and that she is receiving $5 million in staggered installments.
Soon after, seemingly paranormal events start occurring to Cecilia, eventually leading her to believe that Adrian is still alive and that his research in the field of optics had allowed him to become invisible in order to torment her.
She takes her evidence to Tom (Michael Dorman), Adrian’s brother and lawyer, and tells him to stop Adrian’s torment. This idea is rebuffed. The invisible figure continues to torment her, at one point hitting Sydney, who assumes Cecilia did it and escapes from her along with James.
Cecilia goes to Adrian’s house to investigate his laboratory and finds some kind of invisibility suit. She contacts her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), and is informing her when the invisible figure slits Emily’s throat and pins the murder on Cecilia.
Cecilia gets sent to a mental hospital, awaiting trial, where she is informed that she is pregnant. Tom visits her in the mental hospital and tells her that if she agrees to have the baby and returned to Adrian, Tom would clear her of her charges.
Cecilia refuses the offer and steals a pen from Tom’s briefcase. That night, she attempts suicide using the pen and the invisible figure tries to stop her. Cecilia stabs the invisible figure repeatedly, resulting in the suit malfunctioning and occasionally revealing the invisible figure’s suit.
The invisible figure escapes with Cecilia in pursuit, but not before the invisible figure informs her that they will hurt the people she loves. Cecilia makes it to Sydney’s house, where the invisible figure is attacking Sydney and James. Cecilia shoots the figure to death and, upon unmasking the figure, finds Tom.
Adrian is found later at his house, alive and tied up, claiming Tom had kidnapped him. Cecilia insists that the two were working together and that Adrian had faked his kidnapping as well. In order to get a confession, she goes to Adrian’s house and agrees to mend their relationship if he confesses to being the figure.
Adrian, however, claims that the kidnapping experience changed him and his abusive ways, but his monologue uses similar phrasing as the figure. Cecilia is now certain it was Adrian and excuses herself to use the restroom. Then, the security camera captures Adrian seemingly slitting his own throat.
When Cecilia comes back out of the bathroom, she expresses shock and calls the police, but upon exiting the view of the camera, she taunts Adrian, informing him that she’d taken the second invisibility suit and had outsmarted him once and for all.
The first half of the movie is consistently strong, with the horror-drama elements mapping neatly onto the emotional turmoil of an abuse victim. The “you have to believe me!” trope where someone experiences something paranormal, but no one else is there to see it and the person experiencing it is unable to convince anyone of the occurrence maps neatly onto the gaslighting form of emotional abuse, forcing the protagonist to question their thoughts and memories.
The tired imagery of comforter-pulling, floating knives, mysterious fires are reinvigorated by imbuing them with a new thematic purpose, making the movie feel like both an instant classic and an original concept.
The camera is skillfully utilized with the presence of the invisible figure being felt far before any of the invisible figure’s actions are seen. The negative space around Cecilia, seemingly unmotivated camera moves or the camera moving deliberately with no one in the frame seems to imply that the camera is aware of a presence the audience that the audience cannot perceive. It’s a simple, but effective way to unsettle the audience.
There are criticisms of the science-fiction twist that occurred in the middle of the movie, though I would have to defend the movie in that regard. The mystery offered by paranormal horror movies is certainly unparalleled because the rules are simply impossible to establish.
But the movie is not about the paranormal, it’s about gaslighting. If the movie had gone the paranormal route with its explanation, redemption for Cecilia would’ve been impossible because the phenomenon would remain unexplained and unprovable, almost as if the movie itself were gaslighting its main character.
The science-fiction twist reinforces that sense of reality to the movie by explaining the phenomenon in a manner that’s rooted inconsistent and explainable rules.
However, the movie’s final twist and the subsequent ten minutes fall flat. It seemingly wants to set up a moral quandary that does not have much depth and the quandary itself relies on an informational vacuum. The moral quandary is when Cecilia kills Adrian at the end of the movie.
Presumably, this is meant to possibly mean she did not kill her tormenter, since Tom had been revealed to be the person in the invisibility suit. However, even if Adrian had genuinely not been involved in Tom’s scheme, Adrian had still tormented Cecilia while they were in a relationship.
Regardless of whether or not an abuse victim is morally in the right to kill their abuser, the crime committed is mild at best given that Cecilia was tormented by Adrian. Even if Adrian was not engaged in all of the torment, Cecilia killing Adrian would be its’ own satisfying ending since he did torment her.
Instead, the film alienates the audience from Cecilia in this crucial moment, expecting the audience to see this as possibly the killing of an innocent man even though Adrian is far from that. Cecilia is depicted as manipulative subsequent to her moment of strength. It’s a poor decision that stems directly from the unnecessary overinvolvement of Tom.
Considering that the moral quandary does not have stakes, there’s also the matter that the quandary relies on the fact that the audience knows nothing about Tom. Now, nothing from during the relationship between Cecilia and Adrian is shown during the movie, but the lack of information about Tom and his motives make the quandary function.
If the audience knew why Tom wanted to do what he did, the dilemma would’ve been answered. So instead, the movie keeps Tom’s motives hidden from the audience, and during the scene where Cecilia is telling James that Adrian is in on it, the audience is, for the first time in the movie, not on the same page as Cecilia.
Cecilia either knows something the audience doesn’t or is making a snap-judgment. Her motives in the final moments are unknown to the audience. And a moral dilemma that’s based on the lack of information does not make sense.
All in all, “The Invisible Man” is a competent movie that mostly succeeds in conveying that spiral of gaslighting and abuse. But it suffers because it tries to outsmart itself. It does not need a twist. If the invisible figure had been definitely Adrian, it would’ve made for a much cleaner ending that does not keep the audience in the dark in order for its twist to work.