Elisabeth Moss gives it her all, but this ‘Invisible Man’ isn’t a must-see

Elisabeth Moss gives it her all, but this ‘Invisible Man’ isn’t a must-see

Bad movies are one thing, but there’s a more potent disappointment reserved for ones that coulda been contenders.

Director-writer Leigh Whannell’s reboot of “The Invisible Man” squanders a juicy and topical premise: That this version of H.G. Wells’ classic is fueled by toxic masculinity. The idea of combining creature-feature invisibility with domestic-abuse gaslighting — playing with someone’s reality to make them think they’re going insane — is inspired.

This middling horror film, regrettably, is not.

We meet Elisabeth Moss’ Cecilia as she’s fleeing a minimalist mansion in the middle of the night, her partner Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) fast asleep. The crashing waves outside the seaside house reflect her gut-churning anxiety — the movie’s bass-heavy sound design is its best feature, especially if you catch it in IMAX.

The skittish Cecilia finds refuge at the home of a friend (Aldis Hodge) who also happens to be a cop, although she only gives him a few scant details about her cruel ex, a renowned tech-optics developer. When she’s told that Adrian’s killed himself, instead of relief, Cecilia begins to feel a creeping sense of dread. What could it be?

Well, we know the title, so none of what happens next comes as a huge surprise. She’s being stalked by someone she — and we — can’t see. Problematically, we also know next to nothing about this person. He’s not only invisible, he’s a total enigma, which makes him substantially less interesting as a villain. Rather than allowing us a flashback or two, Whannell (“Upgrade”) barrels straight into the action, which quickly escalates from prank-like antics to brutal violence.

Moss gives it her all as Cecilia’s world is torn apart by the unseen force, which primarily tortures her by making her loved ones — especially her sister (Harriet Dyer) — think she’s unhinged. Her portrayal of a woman desperate for anyone to believe she’s being hunted by her ex is a powerful, realistic performance inside a movie mostly interested in gotcha scares (a couple of which are, to be fair, memorably jarring). Whannell is frustratingly blithe about the power of the metaphor. He gives Cecilia brief lines about Adrian’s past controlling behavior, but mostly treats her character like any generic horror-flick Woman in Peril.

This “Invisible Man” is also riddled with dumb character decisions, thudding dialogue and inexplicable details, like the powers its baddie suddenly develops. The element of surprise doesn’t, I’m pretty sure, confer superhero traits, and yet this Invisible Man is somehow an unstoppable, uber-athletically agile force.

This is one screenplay that needed, well, a little more vision.

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