Why ‘The Invisible Man’ is an authentic horror experience

One of the greatest fears in life is wondering if someone is watching you. Someone that you can’t see, yet somehow you feel the presence of a body. Filmmakers have toyed with this supernatural condition for decades, but few execute it as well as writer-director Leigh Whannell does with his take on “The Invisible Man.”

What he does that makes it special is use a woman’s mental trauma from an abusive relationship as a realistic hook to the story-instead of merely using it as a prop. It’s Elizabeth Moss’ captivating performance as Cecilia Kass that really makes Whannell’s film a tour de force-type experience. She has play dual roles: an unnerving woman who may crazy and seeing things, and then a damaged woman trying to find solace from her ex-boyfriend.

It’s her portrayal of those different personalities that will keep you guessing as we follow Cecilia in survival mode. When we first meet her, she’s packing her things in tip-toe mode as her worst half, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), sleeps. The way Whannell, along with the sound mixing team and production design, take us through this scene is hypnotic. The owners of the “Parasite” home would be jealous of Adrian’s high-tech mansion, but not Cecilia. She’s merely trying to escape.

As we catch up with her later, staying with her protective cop friend (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter (Storm Reid, from HBO’s “Euphoria”), Cecilia can’t get Adrian out of her head. When her sister informs her that he took his own life and left her everything, she’s not buying it. And that is where “The Invisible Man” gets very interesting.

I won’t spoil more, but I will tell you a few things about the film and what to expect.

First, you will jump at least three times, and it’s not just the moments from the trailer. Whannell and his editor, Andy Canny, do a great job of being patient with us in showing the supposed invisible man stalking Cecilia while leaving the impression that it could be in her head only.

Second, the two hour running time flies by. From the first scene of escape to the shocking moments stuffed in between that first mad dash down the grassy hill to the big climax, Whannell doesn’t waste a minute here. And he could have simply due to the magnetic Moss and the style of film.

Third, this is not a straight-laced horror film, staying true to H.G. Wells’ novel and intentions, but with Whannell’s twisted gaze about relationships, painful pasts, and how one moves on and survives.

Fourth, the film handles that mental trauma from an abusive relationship in a potent manner. Once again, it’s patient, diabolical, and slowly laid out for the audience to recognize and judge for themselves. Did Cecilia’s agony cause her to become mentally unstable, or is she really seeing someone who is trying to be invisible? It’s a testament to the real condition of women finding the future just as hard to deal with as the past after being abused.

Hodge and Jackson-Cohen are fine here, while Reid gets more to do than expected-but this is Moss’ show. Start to finish, she’s the hook that keeps you going. If you don’t buy Cecilia’s fight, you won’t buy the movie for a second. With a film carrying horror/thriller/drama elements, an anchoring presence was required.

I appreciated the simple fact that “The Invisible Man” was legitimately scary while meaning something in the end. It’s not fluff or easy frights. Whannell is getting at something here, and framed it in an entertaining and thought-provoking device, showing us the layered and everlasting power of fear.

It’s also a movie that needs to be experienced in a theater with strangers, darkness, and the hand full of popcorn that you can’t really see-but know is there. Some films can be enjoyed at home, but please go see this one on a rainy night at the neighborhood theater which has a popper that makes weird noises and the door that doesn’t close all the way.

To put it succinctly, “The Invisible Man” delivers in a big way.

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