by Rob DiCristino
The opening sequence of The Invisible Man (2020) features a daring midnight escape: Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) creeps out of bed and through a palatial beachfront compound, taking careful steps to avoid waking her sleeping paramour, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). She packs a bag. She disables the security systems. She slips on a pair of comfortable running shoes. We don’t know why Cecilia is leaving, but it’s clear that she never wants to come back. And although our protagonist is frantic, director Leigh Whannell’s camera is not. It’s eerily still, for the most part, favoring wider angles that emphasize negative space. It peeks in at Cecilia from odd vantage points as she makes her rounds. We’re expecting Adrian to wake up. We’re expecting a jump scare. And then, for seemingly no reason at all, the camera pans away from Cecilia and over to an empty hallway. We wait. Nothing happens. We pan back. Cecilia moves on. What was that? Did we miss something? No, we learned something: The movie just taught us how to watch it.
This should be cathartic, but it isn’t. Cecilia knows that something is still off. She knows Adrian isn’t really dead. She can feel odd vibrations in the air around her. Nothing tangible, at first, but something ethereal. Why doesn’t anyone else see it? Because no one ever does. No one can see the world through a victim’s eyes. No one can explain away the residual stress, fear, and rage that come with an experience like Cecilia’s. Trauma has latched to her back and begun digging, slowly and painfully, into her soul. Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio convey that trauma through extraordinary visual technique, constantly isolating Cecilia in corners of the frame or masking spaces around her, using windows and doorways to create smaller frames within existing ones. The camera lingers on kitchen counters and open doorways; it wants us to see something, or at least to swear we did. But did we? Where did that knife go? What’s under that sheet and behind those drapes? Why did we rack focus away from Cecilia and onto a blank wall? Was something there? Will it ever show itself?