A Modern Monster
Filmgoers of The Invisible Man, a new Universal thriller release this week, will be predisposed to recall the studio’s classic Monster films of the early studio system (with the lesser-seen Invisible original released alongside canonical picks like Dracula, Frankenstein, and all their brides and sons), though this iteration is an entirely new fashion for the Universal Monsters to wear. Of course, that is certainly some of the film’s intention; it’s built to scare, sure, but perhaps equally built to disarm viewers in their expectations. Director Leigh Whannell, armed with a superb writing record on films like Insidious, lends his writing sensibility in a plot-piling, twist-serving movie that offers many questions and answers...well, most of them.
Yet, in many key scenes, the thrill comes not from pelting of plot, rather from primal, simple setpieces. Elizabeth Moss’ Cecilia opens the film trying to escape her breathtaking cliffside modern-manor, where she is trapped (emotionally, sure, but also walled-off) by her partner, an abuser as monstrous as his invention that will appear at the head of the film’s first act. Do not worry about seeing The Invisible Man with a multiplex audience that may jeer or howl; scenes like this opener ensure that pins will be heard dropping on the theater’s aisle floors. It’s a welcome entry from studio Blumhouse, who has relied less on cunning filmmaking as of late. Invisible’s high favor with critics and word-of-mouth alike has yielded roughly fifty million so far from the box office, making it a high performer for the March season.
Whannell’s career has led to a smart thriller like this; calculated and predicated on precision, in the cutting, in fashionable scenes like one sequence in a hospital allowing the film to flaunt its deft special effects; impressive, too, as the film‘s budget is reportedly a cool seven million dollars, allowing the film to also exceed above its financial contemporaries. A ripe idea for any for-profit enterprise: constructing an antagonist that rarely has screen time or has significantly less screen time than most films allot is an effective cash-conserver. Somewhere right now, independent filmmakers are rigorously writing this down on legal pads.
The photography has a thematic purpose, far beyond a simple lens of voyeurism; most scenes employ pans and exploration across negative space to provoke the paranoia of “another present”, which is well-suited in the world of haunted house fare, like Jack Clayton’s seminal 1961 work The Innocents; a curious, roving camera is a curious audience, or so the idea goes. Surveillance footage is effective as an extension of doubt or manipulation of what may really be happening; here is where Whannell and co. are imploring a closer look. There are pitfalls with surveillance, and a major plot point in a public place serves as the caveat to its use; however, a film championing a 21st-century thriller aesthetic has it right on the money. This is where horror is heading.
Additionally, there is a pleasant use of expressionist imagery; watch how Whannell and DP Stefan Duscio choose to film their night scenes, the quality of which marks a great chiller from a spineless dud. The cliffside manor is an award-winning home in New South Wales, Australia, and its surroundings bookend the narrative. The rest of the film is shot in various Australian urban locations masking as San Francisco, a relevant setting given the titular character’s known aptitude for technology. “He’s a world leader in optics,” says Moss, defeated. With the film’s quick background given, we don’t question this fact.
Elisabeth Moss may not have the perception as a star, someone who can open a movie off of the weight of their name or stature. This will change soon. She continues to charm in each role, and the “gaslighted” role is a tough command for any performer. She is joined by some questionable casting, but no mistakes are made: this is her stage, and she delivers one of the great and more resonant thriller performances in recent memory. Some plot devices or niceties may distract some (how can an invisible man transport himself so effectively?) but the film is playful enough in its portrayal of science-fiction elements that there is leeway given, especially when the thrills come at such dense pace. Again, this is where we’re heading in horror: technology, digital paranoia, trauma, and how they intertwine. Somehow, the season’s scariest movie is in some way about...optics.
Modern monsters, indeed.
11/16/2022 05:33:38 pm
Everyone very property. Great house laugh add ten mouth hold. Dog stock individual.
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comments on the screen by nolan lampson.