Moss' performance supplies visible proof of excellence in 'The Invisible Man'
Leigh Whannell's tightly twisted update of Universal Pictures' 1933 classic "The Invisible Man" seems more like an R-rated toxic-relationship drama than a vintage sci-fi thriller.
But what could be more timely than a political fantasy tapping into the experiences of a woman trapped, abused and controlled by a wealthy, powerful man, and whose accusations against him sound so outrageous, nobody believes her?
During a virtual silent-film opening segment (only music and sound effects allowed), a San Francisco Bay Area architect named Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) stages a well-planned, elaborate escape from a massive fortress of a seashore house designed by her control-freak tech-optics inventor boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).
With help from sister Alice (Harriet Dyer), Cecilia hides at the home of a childhood bud, a cop named James (Aldis Hodge), who lives with his teen daughter Sydney (Storm Reid).
For a long time, Whannell (who also wrote the screenplay) focuses on Cecilia's fragile frame of mind and how her paranoid fear that Adrian will find her paralyzes her to the point where she becomes just as much a prisoner in James' house as she had been in Adrian's.
Then, news of Adrian's apparent suicide sets her free.
Cecilia slowly rebuilds her confidence.
And slowly, Whannell turns the narrative screws.
Large spaces on the screen with nobody there become a source of ominous suspense, like watching a placid scene in a Michael Haneke movie, just waiting for something strange to occur.
There it is! The stove burner goes to ultra high by itself!
There it is! Something seems to be standing on the bedsheets that Cecilia tries to pick up. She can't see what.
She realizes that vengeful Adrian has somehow become invisible and intends to destroy her life by drugging her, sabotaging her job interviews, dispatching hateful emails under her name and doing far worse things later.
"Adrian gets inside your head!" she says. "That's what he does!"
When Cecilia exhales digitally created breath on a cold night, she can see digitally created breath coming from nobody standing next to her!
No one believes her that her dead, invisible, abusive ex-boyfriend is pulling off the greatest gaslighting job since Charles Boyer in "Gaslight."
Moss' dramatically traumatic performance drives Whannell's film with a bottomless reservoir of wounded empathy and appealing pluck.
Ever since she set corporate fire to AMC's series "Mad Men," Moss has evolved into one of the most enticingly complex actresses of her generation, able not only to mete out menace (in Jordan Peele's "Us"), but to be genuinely menaced as well (in Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale").
Moss, courageously devoid of vanity when the character calls for it, seamlessly whisks Cecilia from victim to victor, but with a high cost of humanity attached.
"The Invisible Man" supplies generous amounts of preposterous fun and thrills, but its excessive running time of 122 minutes diminishes the collective impact of many of Whannell's best assets, including Benjamin Wallfisch's unsettlingly sinister score, and production designer Alex Holmes' imaginative renderings of Adrian's high-tech, mansion-sized cage for his Cecilia.
At least the trailers only ruin the early surprises in a movie that proves the saying "Out of sight, out of his mind."
"The Invisible Man"★ ★ ★
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Director: Leigh Whannell
Other: A Universal Pictures release. Rated R for language, violence. 122 minutes