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The Invisible Man: a masterclass in sci-fi/horror, dread and social commentary

The Invisible Man: a masterclass in sci-fi/horror, dread and social commentary (Review)

Thaddeus Buttrey

The Invisible Man creates a harrowing experience that is truly horrifying beyond just being a creepy movie; its frightening content paints a vivid picture that some may find to be eerily relatable.



A few quick words of warning before beginning this review in earnest: first, this review will discuss topics some folks may find triggering, specifically domestic abuse and suicide. Second, it is difficult to fully dissect this film without giving some things away. I promise not to spoil TOO much, but there will be a few minor spoilers ahead. Now, with that piece of housekeeping out of the way, let’s delve into the review proper.

Blumhouse Productions produced some of the biggest names in Hollywood horror during the 2010s, including Insidious (2010), Sinister (2012),  The Purge (2013), Oculus (2014), and Get Out (2017). With such a lineup of predecessors, kicking off a new decade was surely a daunting task. Enter The Invisible Man (2020), Blumhouse Productions’ most recent offering, directed by Leigh Whannell. For those of you expecting a remake of James Whale’s 1933 film of the same name starring Claude Rains, you may want to adjust your expectations, as the 2020 version shares little with the black and white classic.

The Invisible Man (2020) follows the story of Cecilia “Cee” Kass (Elisabeth Moss) after she escapes from her abusive boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and takes refuge with her friend James (Aldis Hodge). A few weeks later, she learns that Adrian has committed suicide, and the people in her life try to convince Cee that her troubles are over. However, she can’t help but feel like she’s being watched, and her suspicions are confirmed after some strange happenings make those around her believe she’s losing her mind. Over time, she begins to understand that something may be haunting her at every step, and she may never really be rid of Adrien.

Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man (Mark Rogers/Universal Pictures)

Much of the film’s success lies with Moss, who is in every scene. Often with no other actors to work off of, Moss is able to use subtle movements and facial expressions to fill an otherwise empty space with terror, and perfectly encapsulates the isolation of someone recovering from trauma. I should also note Stefan Duscio’s skillful cinematography. His use of long tracking shots, as well as slow closeups and fade-outs, further punctuates Cee’s anxiety and dread. He will, on occasion, use shaky-cam (a filming technique I loathe) to juxtapose these moments of calm, but luckily he uses it sparingly, saving me a headache. 

Director Leigh Whannell has an excellent understanding of pacing. He knows exactly when to allow the film to be a slow burn of tension and atmosphere, and when to amp up the visual and narrative intensity. Whannell’s pacing pays off masterfully in the third act, and while it may begin to test your suspension of disbelief as it starts to rely more heavily on its science fiction aspects, it is definitely worth the ride.

A major theme the film addresses is the lasting trauma as a result of an abusive relationship, and how sometimes, no matter how hard you try, that trauma will follow you and continue to affect your life for years afterwards. The Invisible Man addresses this skillfully as Cee is seemingly haunted by an “invisible man,” leaving the supporting cast and the audience to wonder if it’s really there, or if Cee is being forced to relive her past trauma within her own head. The film addresses how an abuser may gaslight their victim until the victim can no longer trust their own thoughts. How an abuser’s past deeds may continue to follow their victim long after the abuse has ended. How well-meaning people around the victim may not fully realize how deeply this person has been affected until it’s too late. 

See Also

Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man (Universal Pictures)

The horror of The Invisible Man stems from a very real topic that affects too many people; its relatability only making it more frightening. The film presents this topic of abuse and trauma in a fantastical way, and truly utilizes it as an effective narrative tool. It never feels cheap or shoe-horned at the last minute for easy lip service. The Invisible Man really takes the time to unpack the complexities and nuances of trauma with a horror venir.

While some may find solace or even empowerment from the film, I would not blame others if they found it difficult to watch. I would implore you, however, to try it at least once. It is not a film for everyone, and there are definitely some people who will struggle with it, particularly if they have past traumas of their own. But The Invisible Man is a well-made horror/sci-fi film that not only addresses serious real-world issues, but addresses them well.


Little Fires Everywhere: Trailer (Hulu)

The Invisible Man is available to watch on demand.


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