Friday, February 28, 2020

'The Invisible Man': #MeBoo

"It takes control and slowly tears you apart."

The Invisible Man, Universal's latest re-imagining of one of its classic movie monsters, couldn't be released during a more perfect time, the same week that Harvey Weinstein, a real-life monster, was  convicted of rape and sexual assault. Ironically, it's also his conviction that has me hoping movies like it won't need to be made anymore.

And that's not because the movie is bad! It's a very solid thriller. It's because the story is clearly influenced by the #MeToo movement, and serves as an elaborate bit of wish fulfillment fantasy for the untold numbers of women whose reports of rape and harassment are not believed. Perhaps now women's revenge can happen in the courtrooms and not on movie screens.

In the meantime, we have The Invisible Man, which wastes no time getting started, opening with an extremely well-executed bit of suspense, as we follow our heroine, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) creeping through a modern glass-walled, seaside mansion. She's drugged the man sleeping next to her, and it's clear she's trying to make an escape. A few things are established during that escape: whoever she's fleeing from is very rich, has some kind of high tech lab in his basement, and keeps a shock collar on his dog, so clearly, an asshole.

Once she's ensconced in the Oakland home of her friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), Cecilia is a bundle of nerves, too scared to even walk as far as the curbside mailbox. Her sister, Alice (Harriet Dyer) is finally able to get some of Cecilia's story out of her: her husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), was controlling, manipulative, and violent. He would have killed her before letting her leave.

Cecilia's paranoia that Adrian will find her is temporarily relieved when his brother (and lawyer) Tom (Michael Dorman) informs her that Adrian killed himself, and has left her a small fortune. But Cecilia is skeptical. Adrian wasn't the kind of man to just give up like that. And what is that creeping presence she can't seem to shake when the house is quiet and she's alone?

A movie like this can be frustrating, as we spend a huge chunk of it waiting for Cecilia to figure out what we already know, but Elisabeth Moss keeps it from getting monotonous. She gives the kind of performance that, were it not in a horror movie, would get all the nominations and awards. There's absolutely no vanity in it; for the majority of the film she looks like hell, alternating between terrified and fight mode, pleading with everyone to just believe her, no matter how crazy her story may sound. (They don't.)

The Invisible Man runs the genre gamut, employing aspects of horror, science fiction, and suspense. The scares play out like a haunted house movie might, and director Leigh Whannell fills his widescreen image with plenty of spooky empty space that may or may not actually be empty. The booming soundtrack by Benjamin Wallfisch also amps up the terror (it literally made the seats in the theater vibrate).

Ultimately, the horror at the center of The Invisible Man is both primal and timely. What do you do when you are being terrorized by a monster no one else can (or is willing) to see? And what can you do when people start to believe you're the real monster?

You fight. With all the tools available to you.

Friday, January 10, 2020

'Underwater' Sinks

Note: Not a still from Aliens. Or The Abyss.

It's never a good sign when a film's release is delayed two years, and it's an even worse sign when said film is released in the month of January, the chosen dumping ground for movie garbage. But such is the case for Underwater, the new deep-sea monster movie starring Kristen Stewart.

Kristen Stewart plays Norah, a mechanical engineer on a deep water drilling rig, and she barely has time to finish her inner monologue about pessimism, brush her teeth, and put on a shirt before the rig starts to implode around her. She finds a handful of survivors, including Vincent Cassel as the Captain, and T.J. Miller as an annoying crew member who thinks he's hilarious (aka T..J. Miller). While they suspect an earthquake may be the cause, the weird growls heard on the drilling crew's last transmission give them pause. Nonetheless, Norah and crew must find a way to the surface, even if it means walking a mile across the bottom of the ocean.

I complain a lot about the length of current films, and have a longstanding belief that most could be cut down by 30 minutes and be much improved for it. Underwater is perhaps the rare exception to this rule. Its brisk 95 minute running time leaves no space for character development, establishment of place, or, really, anything other than confusion. Disaster strikes literally minutes into the film, before we've met anyone but Norah, and all we learn about her is she has good oral hygiene, has probably lost a life partner, won't kill spiders, and wears glasses she immediately loses, and never mentions needing again.

There are some tense moments of claustrophobic crawling through crushed hallways, but having no idea what this big underwater station looks like or what its lay-out is, paired with some maddening jump cuts that omit long swaths of time, the crew might as well be trapped in a storage locker. Once they don their diving suits and hit the water, forget it. It's impossible to see what the hell is going on.

My reaction to Underwater probably wasn't helped by the fact that, by mere coincidence, I had re-watched The Abyss two weeks before, and sure that movie has its flaws, but at least you could see what was happening! I'm sure director William Eubank thought Underwater's murky sea was both creepier and more realistic, and there's probably no way the water that deep down is as clear and brightly lit as James Cameron made it look in The Abyss. But you know what? I'll take that clear sea and its technicolor aliens over Underwater's murky depths any day.