Rating: .5 out of 5
The Invisible Man is a masquerade. Let’s get one thing clear: Hollywood does not give a shit about it’s past transgressions, no matter how many of these faux-supportive genre films they create, but they do want you to have fun with them, and that is extremely perverse. My advocacy is not that trauma should remain in the realm of misery but rather that we should stop being so lazy with what we consume and call “good”, discontinue propping up these shallow genre films (see: Ready or Not, Mayhem, Guns Akimbo, The Assistant) with hollow ideologies that profit off of public sentiment and our ever-shifting consensus morality. I adore genre-cinema but I desperately desire to keep the gnarly, greasy grips of lame bourgeois morals, whose conviction is passing at best, to debilitate and make boring genre cinema. The Invisible Man is first and foremost boring, secondly it has no tangible concern for survivors or their trauma, it’s a horror film, the entire plot is contingent on tormenting this woman, not because that is necessary to make the film scary but because the filmmakers reveal their own limited vernacular in recounting tales as painful as this within the genre conceits they are somewhat obligated to subscribe to. It’s “social-horror” for the social media generation where a headline is enough to substantiate political ideology and instigate a calcified opinion.
The story picks up with Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) as she escapes the clutches of an abusive, violent relationship. Moss is justifiably frantic and intense but she definitely broaches the realm of caricature, not quite deserving of the crossover-award-season hype she has thus received, she hits one note the whole film. She is taken in by a loving family James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), nothing surprising happens here so I will not classify it as a spoiler when the titular villain shows up, hurts James’ daughter and because he is you know, invisible, James assumes it was Cecilia in a completely unbelievable switch of character, what had been a pillar of rationality suddenly crumbling to the habits of a paranoid father simply to instigate plot movement. After that Cecilia is on the run and things get increasingly dicey at each turn, no one in her life is safe. Every scene is funny because The Invisible Man could be in it, not scary but absolutely hilarious. The whole film is just “oh there he is” and then tracking to the other side of the room “oh no! There he is” it’s perhaps satisfying for a jump scare or two but the thrills are quickly depleted and the laughs increase.
The post-Fincheraztion of thrillers and horror films is a troubling development, genre films are more often than not rendered sterile, The Invisible Man being no exception. So Leigh Whannell is perhaps only to fault for employing a certain trend that the general population has deemed enjoyable. Everything in this movie looks fine with a muted gray haze that is pervasive in the film’s color palette, which if is to be viewed as an exteriorization of trauma is a rather condemning notion that life being a survivor is monochromatic; a problematic reading to say the least but it mostly comes across as a feeble disinclination to make a strong aesthetic decision. There are moments of cinematographic wizardry, however, much like Fincher, they are choreographed high-staged “wow” shots in juxtaposition to scenes of cold, disconnected coverage.
Horror movies that allow their characters to fight back run the risk of invalidating and puncturing the tension within the established power dynamic. It’s a potent role reversal that sometimes works (Nightmare on Elm Street 3, It Follows) but can also break the logic of your entire series (any number of the Halloween sequels). The back half of The Invisible Man centers itself on this tug-of-war between Cecilia and the titular villain. It attempts to create some ambiguity around whether or not The Invisible Man is a real person or a manifestation of Cecilia’s trauma that is ultimately worthless because of course it’s a real person! That was never a mystery worth entertaining just one that was available. The entire nature of the plot is just a series of individuals not believing Cecilia, which is perhaps the films most lasting insight: some woman can go raving mad trying to convince the world of their pain and people simply won’t listen to them. The film almost becomes something in these moments, scratching at the dread that must be felt when people vehemently deny your truth to you.
It’s painful to watch a culturally beloved film that ends up repulsing and disenfranchising more than it does entertain. I imagine many felt similarly if they tried and failed to get into Animal Crossing: New Horizons earlier this year. Due to the pandemic there seemed to be a discomforting media consensus, perhaps a byproduct of shared experience but, perhaps more upsetting: a cultural monopoly that has been encroaching on art for years. The Invisible Man in that regard was one of the first “great” films to release during quarantine and it’s absolutely miserable. A morose, beleaguered and ensnared film entangled in the aesthetic baggage of method. While it was lovely to have a film to champion, to rally behind in a time of crisis, The Invisible Man is indicative of a starved culture and if it doesn’t appeal to you it’s probably because you have a healthy appetite.
David Fincher is to cinema what Immanuel Kant is to philosophy. Not completely invaluable in teachings or in methods but perhaps incredibly flawed in personal application, as if maxims can sustain substance. Fincher deploys a a clinical approach to aesthetics and essentialism, itself a byproduct of capital dependency. Meticulous planning does not beget a great film in the same way that ironclad universal maxims do not beget happiness for all people. They are celebrated in their schools as foundational movers of their respective mediums, and the danger is not in either of the individuals themselves (because their error is extremely valuable) but the nature in which they are respected. Kantianism is a salve for the will in the same way Fincherism is an opiate for cinematic freedom, as if filmmaking and philosophy are, in the act, processes of reason.