Leigh Whannell is Making the Leap

The Invisible Man came out weeks ago, but uhhhhh I won’t be going to the theater for a minute, so you get this in the meantime.

There are few things more gratifying as a sports fan than when an athlete you love “makes the leap”, when they ascend to the higher level you’ve always seen in them. It’s better than sex on drugs and drugs on sex, I’m telling you. I’ve had that pleasure watching Donovan Mitchell make the leap, watching Ronald Acuña Jr. make the leap and watching Nolan Arenado make the leap. It’s equally as thrilling to watch a director you buy stock in make the leap too. I got to watch Christopher Nolan make the leap, I got to watch Mike Flanagan make the leap and now in his third directorial effort, The Invisible Man, Leigh Whannell has made the leap. 

You know you’re in good hands immediately when the film begins. There’s no word of dialogue for a good ten minutes and yet you instantly know everything you need to. You have no backstory for Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss, amazing as always), but you instantly are terrified for her and rooting for her as she flees her abusive boyfriend in the middle of the night. Whanell also manages what will remain one of the single greatest jump scares of this new decade. You’ll know it when you see it, it’s magnificent. Every single person in the audience lost it when it happened. 

Whannell reteams with Stefan Duscio, who has quickly become a cinematographer I’m excited about after shooting Upgrade and Sweetheart previously. His kinetic energy continues in The Invisible Man. Whannell and Duscio make ambitious decisions that pay off in how they shoot this film. They will often hold on an empty frame devoid of characters, and they know you’re trained to spot what doesn’t belong in the frame, looking for any evidence that the titular invisible man is there. The suspense and tension that the film maintains through its 2 hour runtime is in big part because you never know if there is someone looking back at you in these empty frames. 

Whannell stretched the $3 million budget for Upgrade magnificently, and does the same here with the $7 million budget for The Invisible Man. He seems to have learned all the right lessons from working with James Wan. He knows the scares are no good unless you care about the characters involved. He doesn’t bog you down with exposition about how the invisibility works. He knows it doesn’t matter, what matters is the characters and craft of the filmmaking. What matters is how he uses this classic story to discuss things like abuse, trauma and gaslighting.

I did not expect Whannell to get this good, and I certainly didn’t expect him to do it this quickly. His first directorial effort was Insidious: Chapter 3 and it was fine and has some solid spooky moments. He really caught my attention two years ago with Upgrade though. Upgrade was one of my favorite films of 2018 and is a film I just love more and more each time I watch it. That movie fucks. Please watch it if you haven’t. It’s an ultraviolent, gonzo scifi action film that is just wonderful. We’re living in a good time when talent like Whannell develops this well. The Invisible Man has cemented him as a filmmaker whose work I will always watch in the theater. He is nothing if not ambitious and crafty, and we are seeing a truly exciting filmmaker taking shape.

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