A little context first… over the weekend we saw two movies that stopped way short of being great. The first was Jeethu Joseph’s The Body (2019), a Hindi remake of Oriol Paulo’s El Cuerpo (2012). What should have been a twist-galore suspense-driven thriller turned out to be a turgid affair because of the necessitated song and dance numbers; a case of death by cultural traditional practices. We followed that up with Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale (2018), an uncomfortably tragic and elemental revenge tale let down by an unsatisfying and bloated to-and-fro final act. Then we made a trip to the cinema to catch The Invisible Man and our faith with great storytelling is restored. This, in my humble opinion, is the first awesome film of 2020.

Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) is escaping from the grip of her abusive boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a scientist. Freed from him, Cecilia starts to rebuild her life, but her nightmare is just beginning when weird things begin to happen around her that only she can perceive.

Time and time again, H.G. Wells’ classic novel of the same name is revisited by Hollywood. The narrative track is usually one of two (or both) – it portrays either the perks or tribulations of becoming invisible. The first cool thing Australian writer-director Leigh Whannell does is to frame the ubiquitous storyline as a riveting domestic thriller making it thoroughly relevant in this #MeToo era.

The opening sequence is a symphony of gradually swelling music, thrills and spills with nary any exposition of the explicit kind. We have no idea what is going on, but it is so effective we are eagerly clutching at every detail. I love it when a storyteller respects the intelligence of the audience who can connect the dots.

A lot of the story is told from Cecilia’s point of view and in Elizabeth Moss who has a knack for playing strong female characters, we have our perfect guide into a nightmarish world of extreme stalking. Her glazed and terrorised eyes can convey a world of crazy. Her unhinged acting will draw you in. The concept of invisibility is not just a literal concept, it is also a metaphorical one. Being consistently abused by a sociopath, Cecilia is always haunted by shame, anguish and pain even when the tormentor is not around (or is he?). Her mind takes a beating by an invisible force – is Adrian tormenting her or is it post-traumatic stress? It all feels relatable and real.

The camera work is simple but effective. At times, it pans to an empty space and stays there for an eternity, and we sense a presence that isn’t there. The special effects is of a high calibre and it serves the enraging story. The science behind the invisibility is niftily presented and the movement of humans getting plummeted by an unseen brute force is downright scary.

Above all else, it is the nail-biting tension that is deftly maintained from the first scene to the last that is a high-wire act. The twist of an ending is thoroughly earned and cathartic, and in Moss we have the ultimate portrayal of a female heroine gradually finding a latent power within her to strike back at a seemingly insurmountable force that threatens her very being. This is worth the risk of sitting among a cinema full of patrons with the threat of the coronavirus hanging in the air.

If all my words are not enough, try this on for size. That night, after we came home from watching the movie, the missus had one nightmare after another. If that’s not a huge thumbs up, I don’t know what it is.

Rating 4 of 5


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