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Movie Review: For Too Many Women, 'The Invisible Man' Isn't Fiction

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The Invisible Man is not the H.G. Wells tale you probably know. It does follow the usual pattern of the title character engaging in the basest impulses of humanity, but most of the rest of his story is different. Most importantly, this isn’t his story.

It’s the story of his wife, played by Elisabeth Moss, who leaves her manipulative, abusive husband as the movie opens. She’s soon told he’s committed suicide, but she begins to suspect he’s still around, invisible, and trying to drive her crazy. But the common “is she actually nuts or is she right?” mystery is solved rather quickly, for us at least, because that’s not what this story is about. It’s true everyone thinks Moss is either having a mental breakdown or simply lying, and it’s true the more she tries to convince them, the crazier she seems. But it’s not hard to see what’s happening—here is a deeply abused woman whom no one believes, and the effects of that abuse and trauma reverberate through her life and the lives of those around her. Obviously, for too many women, some of this isn’t fiction.

That writer and director Leigh Whannell has made all this explicit, that he’s put it into real, physical form, is a continuation of a long tradition in horror—that is, we address the ills around us by making the psychic or social monster a real monster. Not every decision Whannell makes works, but the movie plays equally well as straight horror and as social commentary.

It’s doubtful any of The Invisible Man would work so well, though, without Moss. She’s devastating as a woman who’s been severely and constantly psychologically assaulted and somehow still finds the strength to push through while those who should be protecting her struggle even to acknowledge her experience as real. Horror movie performances essentially never get awards attention, and so neither will this one, but Moss maneuvers a precarious balancing act magnificently, and perfectly sticks the landing.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.