“Anonymity is no excuse for stupidity.”
– Albert Einstein, letter to close acquaintance (1948) – as collected in the book Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1979)
As I mentioned in my review for The Photograph, it’s been interesting reading about how relationships have changed during COVID lockdowns. Well… maybe “disturbing” might be a better word, considering the levels of reported domestic violence. Being trapped in a relationship from which there appears no escape is troubling in even the “best” of circumstances. When you and your tormentor are forced together due to a worldwide pandemic, it seems like a higher power actively working against you.
The Invisible Man begins with a scene in which Cecilia (our protagonist, played by a too-good-for-this-shit Elisabeth Moss) finally escapes from her physically and psychologically abusive boyfriend. In their remote seaside home somewhere in Northern California, she slips from his bed in the dead of night with nothing but the clothes on her back and some items in her bag. The scene is filmed like an intricate prison break, but the fact that it’s a liberation is all the more rewarding.
This scene is quiet and intense – the minimal ambient noise forcing us to pay attention to each and every micro-noise. With almost no dialogue (she tries to shoo away the dog when it wants to escape with her), both the cinematography and Moss’s physicality tell us all we need to know. When Cecelia accidentally kicks over the dog dish, the audience catches their breath as much as she does. This scene promises a film that will realistically engross its audience as it keeps us on the edge of our seats.
Then it all goes downhill.
The Invisible Man is one of the dumbest movies I’ve seen in quite some time, and that’s saying something. It’s not just stupid, it’s insultingly stupid.
It’s a sci-fi flick that’s at least a decade behind-the-times on actual science. It’s a flick with a tin ear for human speech and a complete misunderstanding of human intelligence. It’s a wannabe “Grrl Power” flick written and directed by a cis dude who takes way too much pleasure in how his female characters are tormented and/or murdered during the movie’s running time. It’s every negative thing anyone has ever said about a Blumhouse Production that wasn’t Get Out or Us, and Elisabeth Moss was actually in the latter.
Most of all, it’s a movie that left me with a lot of questions – not the least of which was “Why the fuck is this flick so highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes?!” (I was tempted to attribute it to RT and Universal both being Comcast subsidiaries, but as a professional critic myself, I know that the world doesn’t work the way DCEU fans have deluded themselves into thinking it does.)
No, my questions included, but were not limited to:
- How is our obviously-not-dead villain able to fake his death with his body apparently being found (crime photos are shown)? Unless you’re Prof. Plumb in Clue, surely you can tell the difference between a dead body and a living one.
- For that matter, don’t EMTs, hospital staff, and coroners actually check whether or not a body is, y’know, dead? Isn’t that the whole point of a post-mortem?
- Did the IRS seek any confirmation? This dude is super-rich, works (runs?) a very lucrative tech firm, and leaves a lot of money to his ex – that raises about a billion red flags that the IRS, insurance companies, and several private banks would want to have checked out.
- What was his endgame in not only faking his death, but also leaving our heroine his money as a supposed final “Fuck you” from beyond the grave?
- I understand wanting to be secure online, which is why I have privacy stickers on my laptop and phone when I’m not video-chatting or taking photos. But why does Cecelia use Wite-Out to cover the camera on her laptop?
- Who still buys Wite-Out?
- Is that even her laptop?! We don’t see her put one in her bag when she escapes at the beginning. Does it belong to Black Cop-Friend or his daughter?
- Upon finding a bottle of pills – placed there by our gaslighting villain – how does Cecelia make the mental quantum leap from “Maybe I misplaced something” to “Obviously, my not-dead abusive ex faked his death and learned how to turn himself invisible”?
- Why does Cecelia not double-check her portfolio before going off on a job interview?
- Hell, why doesn’t she use her inheritance to start her own firm?
- Why is her sister so quick to believe that Cecelia sent a toxic e-mail telling her to fuck off? Did their recent relationship strides mean nothing (the sister is the one who picks up our heroine the night of her escape, both of whom are attacked by the abusive boyfriend)? Does the sister have no sense for our heroine’s tone in the written word?
- For that matter, how does Not-Dead Invisible Ex have access to Cecelia’s accounts and devices? Assuming that these things don’t belong to Black Cop-Friend or his daughter, and even assuming that the boyfriend controlled the accounts because he’s an abusive asshole, did Cecelia not change any of her passwords once she GTFO of his house? Before she even knows he’s dead, she’s paranoid that he may be looking for her (hence the Wite-Out on the laptop), so why not, y’know, restrict access? And no, her quasi-agoraphobia doesn’t count, especially since it’s immediately forgotten about minutes later.
- Why does Black Cop-Friend continue to put up with Cecelia’s shit in his house? Since his relationship to her is never properly defined (we assume they’re not related and it appears that they aren’t fucking), his patience doesn’t make him look saintly, it makes him look like a pushover.
- Black Cop-Friend’s Daughter tries to comfort Cecelia, who’s crying on the floor. Then our invisible villain smacks the daughter, who thinks it was Cecelia… who was crouched on the floor. In a fetal position. On the other side of the room. Which the daughter could plainly see with her own two eyes. The daughter is so stupid that she thinks she was smacked upside the head by a crying woman whom she clearly sees is curled up across the room?
- Why does Cecelia continue to do so many obvious things out loud and in the open when she knows Not-Dead Boyfriend is likely standing right beside her in the invisibility suit?
- When is he not standing beside her in the suit and how the fuck does she know?
- You’re telling me that no one in that restaurant saw the floating knife shit? The waiter visits their table twice before it happens, meaning he’d be keeping an eye on the table he twice floated by seating two people who haven’t ordered anything – he didn’t see the floating knife?
- Why is his invisibility suit a garish mess of head-to-toe gumball-sized cameras when the past decade has repeatedly demonstrated that real thing would be far less complicated?
- And how the hell does he even see out of it?
- And why doesn’t it make any noise when he walks, moves, or… does anything?
- How and why does it make the wearer superhumanly strong?
- And if it makes them superhumanly strong (suggesting possible use for the military), why isn’t it bulletproof?
- And how the fuck does he forget he has two of them?!
- And how does Cecelia instinctually know how to operate it just in time for the inevitable “turn the tables” dénouement?!
We may never truly know why so many PoC just voted for an unapologetic racist, and we may also never know the answers to the questions above.
Now, there’s one good thing about this movie aside from its opening scene, but it requires that one be in a specific state of mind when watching it. The only reason I don’t grade this movie a solid “F” is because there are moments and sequences – smacking the daughter, invisible fighting with guards, the floating fucking knife – where this piece of shit goes from being an insult to one’s intelligence to the most laugh-out-loud comedy you’ll see this year. It was made to be skewered on RiffTrax. (And if you think they wouldn’t do it because it’s a Universal Picture that’s been critically acclaimed, remember that This Island Earth fits that same description to a “T”.)
Knowing that these elements exist in the film, one would be tempted to think that it actually was planned that way – that the creator of the Saw series (writer/director Leigh Whannell) was given a major studio budget to create a movie about technology that is equally ignorant of both the central tech and Bay Area setting in which the story takes place (the movie was shot in Australia, save for Bay Area exteriors). But The Invisible Man has inexplicably proven popular at face value, so it’s unlikely that Whannell would make a belated “satire” claim (a la Tommy Wiseau with The Room, R. Kelly with Trapped in the Closet, or anyone stupid enough to think Showgirls is high art).
With a sequel already in pre-production, Whannell has no reason to learn any lesson from the mistakes of this trainwreck.
And that’s exactly what this is. With a pandemic-ravaged Hollywood unable to figure its next step, The Invisible Man is being touted as the (moderate) box office success that proves the industry still has relevance; the bird that flew whilst Tenet floundered. That means that Hollywood is taking the wrong two lessons from the runs of these movies. The first lesson, which should be obvious, is that no film should be attempting a proper cinematic run whilst the coronavirus still rages out of control.
The second lesson is that an artist or entertainer shouldn’t try to pass off their work as half-assed allyship when the work in question takes so much glee in how the marginalized person suffers just so they can get back at their tormentor in the end. This movie’s about as Feminist as a Bill Maher guest spot on Family Guy. It’s a movie that assembles a genuinely talented cast and has them all portray characters who should be nominated for Darwin Awards (something made all the worse by the fact that Blumhouse produced that stupid Darwin Awards movie).
If anything, I’d like for the movie to mimic its title character: I’ll always know it’s there, but I never want to see it again. Not sober, anyway.