I'm just tired.
I'm just tired of films like The Invisible Man. I'm just tired of films like The Invisible Man that stylishly present stories of women in peril and pretend that it qualifies as entertainment.
I'm tired of the filmmakers who unimaginatively tell these stories. I'm tired of studios that greenlight, or in this case I should say gaslight, these stories. I'm tired of the actors and actresses, often times really gifted ones, who agree to appear in these stories. I'm tired of the audiences that eat this shit up just enough to ensure that it'll happen again and again and again.
The Invisible Man is not an awful film. It's stylishly made and seductively twists the familiar story of The Invisible Man into something new and something different. The Invisible Man has a quality cast doing quality work including Elisabeth Moss, one of Hollywood's most under-appreciated gems who no doubt saw potential in the vision of writer/director Leigh Whannell.
That's the problem. The Invisible Man isn't a "bad" film, per se. As the closing credits scrolled by, I felt surprisingly entertained. The story was nightmarish, really, and yet equally relevant in frightening ways.
I felt entertained. That's what haunts me now. I felt entertained, but I had this gnawing feeling inside me like something was amiss. I was entertained, but I was simultaneously uncomfortable with being entertained. Something wasn't right and I couldn't put my finger on it. I remember advising one of my friends when he sought advice on whether to see Emma or The Invisible Man this weekend that "both are good."
I cringe now, but I didn't cringe then. I knew something was amiss, but I was entertained and in that moment that was still enough. For many moviegoers, that will be enough. "I can separate cinema from real life," they'll no doubt say. "It's not real. It's just a movie," others will proclaim.
"I was entertained," we'll all say and that will be enough and this good but not great film will make enough cash that a few months down the road we'll see another film just like it.
Different story. Same uncomfortable feeling.
There's a quote attributed to the mysterious artist Banksy - "Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable." The Invisible Man does just the opposite. It perpetuates a level of cruelty that just isn't okay. It's not just a movie. It's really not. It's real life and it's especially real life for women who experience domestic violence and sexual harassment and sexual violence and various forms of subtle and not so subtle abuse every single day of their lives.
I wasn't able to put my finger on what was going on in my head until I checked out the words of friend and fellow Indiana Film Journalists Association member Emily Wheeler, whose insight into the film is far superior to mine and better than anything I could possibly write. Her words, written here, are intelligent and insightful and filled with a far too familiar knowledge of that uncomfortable feeling that I had as the closing credits scrolled.
But, I was still entertained.
I've spent the vast majority of my life working as an activist to end violence against women and children. I've spent the vast majority of my life working against domestic violence and sexual violence and child abuse and doing everything in my power to to create a peaceful home for every child.
I was still entertained. That's part of the problem.
No, that's dismissive. I'M part of the problem. I'm still part of the problem.
I'm a sexual assault survivor myself, having experienced it more than once in both childhood and adulthood.
But, I was entertained. I was entertained by something somewhere between cathartic release and the desire for revenge that far too often expresses itself in toxic masculinity as violence. Men pump their chests and shout out "Oo-rah!" Women? Not so much.
In most ways, I think nearly everyone in my tribe would say I live my life more into the feminine. I'm comfortable with this. I celebrate this. Most of my friends are women. Most of my peers are women. They live differently and they don't fall into stereotypes. Yes, some of them are frighteningly toxic. But, that's adding a disclaimer that doesn't deserve to be added here.
The Invisible Man is an "oo-rah!" sort of film.
To his credit, Whannell tells the story tightly and directs it to build maximum suspense. To her credit, Moss is fierce and relentless and intense and amazing to watch here. She's one of our best actresses working today and that shows itself in every scene. There's an argument, in my estimation a weak one, that Moss's performance elevates The Invisible Man past its toxic male roots - that's something you'll have to decide for yourself.
The Invisible Man circles around Moss's Cecilia Kass, who lives in the midst of domestic violence. Let's call it what it is. The advertising calls it a "a violent, controlling relationship."
That's called domestic violence - not a "relationship."
Cecilia is finally able to escape in the dead of the night and goes into hiding with the help of her sister (Harriet Dyer), a childhood friend turned cop (Aldis Hodge), and his teenage daughter (Storm Reid).
All is well but, of course, all is not well.
When the abusive now ex-boyfriend (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) dies by suicide and leaves her a generous portion of his fortune, Cecilia knows, just knows, that something is amiss.
She can't quite put her finger on it.
Time moves forward. A series of increasingly eerie and potentially lethal incidents threaten Cecilia and those she loves. Cecilia is unable to convince those around her that she continues to be hunted by someone who cannot be seen.
The Invisible Man has a grand vision that it doesn't live up to. The Invisible Man has a grand morality play that it limply moves toward only to fall short despite resolution that feels something like "oo-rah" for women. Some will cheer and applaud and sing its praises.
Others, like Emily Wheeler and myself and a handful of others, will shake our heads and quietly mumble "more of the same."
Elisabeth Moss grounds The Invisible Man in an emotional relevance. She somehow manages to empower Cecilia even when the script does not. She's the ultimate hero's hero because even when the script victimizes her she refuses to play the victim. It's Moss's usual act of cinematic bravado and defiance and it's rather remarkable to watch unfold.
The Invisible Man is nearly worth watching for Moss alone.
Whannell is a gifted filmmaker, a veteran of both the Saw and Insidious franchises with a true gift for building a sense of suspense and terror that feels real and genuine and grounded in real life. The film itself is a weaving together of Universal's monsters and Blumhouse's audience-pleasing chills and thrills. The monster here, though, isn't the universal monster that we're used to threatening a town or a city or a state or a universe. This monster is intimate, a deeply personal beast intent on destruction of one fierce human being whose weakness he over-estimated.
Maybe that's the point. The Invisible Man will entertain you. The Invisible Man will disturb you. The Invisible Man is cruel. The Invisible Man is more than just a movie, because this kind of torture and cruelty and abuse is often a day-after-day happening in a culture where this kind of monster lives within our homes and we find him entertaining.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic