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Chris Knight sees no evil in the filmmaking craft behind The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man isn’t something you see every day.

It’s a spousal abuse drama and revenge thriller with the pacing of a supernatural horror story. And it is nail-bitingly, heart-stoppingly intense as hell. By the midpoint of its two hours and five minutes, I was alternately white-knuckling my pen and chewing it in half. (Critics often take notes during a film. This time, my Bic became an emotional support pen.)

Elisabeth Moss stars as Cecelia Kass, the gaslit wife of Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who is some sort of ill-defined millionaire tech genius, judging by his San Francisco mansion with an in-home lab that would make Iron Man blush.

In the early going she effects an escape from him – her kindness to the family pet is almost her undoing – and takes refuge with James (Aldis Hodge), a genial cop with a teenaged daughter. Adrian is presumed to be trying to track her down, until the news arrives that he has been found dead of an apparent suicide.

See it even if, you know, you don’t see it.

We know what happens next; it’s right there in the title and the trailers. Though when Cecelia tries to tell others – “He has figured out a way to be invisible.” – they look at her like she’s crazy. Even the audience may start to wonder.

Writer/director Leigh Whannell, who helped kick off the Saw and Insidious franchises, brings all the tools of the trade to creating suspense in this one, from masterful sound design to slow tracking shots and weird camera angles that only make sense if they’re framing or showing the point of view of someone who can’t be seen.

He also understands the nature of time in cinema. Those two-plus hours never drag, as scenes get stretched out for the sole purpose of building tension. And yet that pressure doesn’t break in the usual way – there’s never a scene where a bathroom mirror suddenly reveals a face, for instance. The camera is always sliding into dark corners where we see – well, nothing, of course. But nothingness can be terrifying.

In the early going, in fact, it’s all about little things – items showing up in the wrong place or mysteriously going amiss. I was almost relieved when the action ramped up; it felt like relatively solid ground. Though you know those horror movie scenes where someone gets dragged across the room by a supernatural force? It’s somehow scarier when the force is invisible but otherwise perfectly natural.

Moss is on the screen almost constantly, often acting against an invisible co-star, and she’s tremendous in the role. Here’s a performer who can easily slide between glamorous and mousy, and she’s fully in the latter mode in The Invisible Man . But her character also hints at inner strength – don’t forget, she pulled off that great escape in the opening scene.

The supporting cast is also strong. As friend and confidant, Hodge straddles the line between sympathetic and suspicious, while Harriet Dyer does a good job in the minor role of Cecilia’s semi-estranged sister, and Michael Dorman is nicely conflicted as Adrian’s brother and lawyer. Finally, a shout-out to first-timer Nick Kici as “Taylor, your waiter tonight,” who helps create a comic mood that is then shattered in the film’s biggest gasp-out-loud moment.

Powerful and disturbing, The Invisible Man will not be to all tastes. Truth be told, I was too freaked out by it to really enjoy the story, looking away at what I already couldn’t see on the screen. But it is an excellent piece of genre filmmaking, and if unbridled terror is your thing – I prefer mine bridled – then this is for you. See it even if, you know, you don’t see it.

The Invisible Man opens across Canada on Feb. 28.

4 stars out of 5

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