“The Invisible Man” is visibly disappointing

TMN film critic Gordon McPherson gives “The Invisible Man” two out of five cameras.

Despite Leigh Whannell’s inventive direction and a committed performance from Elisabeth Moss, “The Invisible Man” ultimately becomes a shallow exercise in style over substance.

As a reminder, horror movies aren’t my cup of tea and jump scares annoy me more than pop quizzes.

“The Invisible Man” wasn’t a pleasant viewing experience in the slightest. Unlike Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and Ari Aster’s “Midsommar,” Whannell prepares viewers for an impactful exploration of abuse, trauma and paranoia — only to squander these themes in a rushed, over the top third act. Nearly everything set up prior is undermined and leaves a troubling aftertaste as a result.

In a brilliantly suspenseful opening scene, Cecilia Cass — played by Moss — tries to escape the clutches of Adrian Griffin, her abusive boyfriend, in the dead of night. Griffin, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, is a world famous optics scientist with a narcissistic, controlling and manipulative soul. Upon barely evading Griffin’s manic grasp, Cass is left haunted by her past and can barely venture outdoors without having a panic attack. Cass’ best friend James Lanier, played by Aldis Hodge, agrees to let her stay with him and his daughter Sydney, played by Storm Reid. Two weeks later, Cass’ sister visits and informs her of Griffin’s apparent suicide. 

Unfortunately, as Cass begins to reckon with Griffin’s death and recover from her experiences, she is terrorized by Griffin yet again. This time, Griffin is completely invisible and nobody believes Cass’ side of the story. As the invisible man methodically dismantles the lives of Cass and those close to her, she must prove Griffin’s continued existence and end his torment once and for all.

Similar to last issue’s “Honey Boy,” “The Invisible Man” targets the long-lasting effects of abusive relationships — only “The Invisible Man” is an outright horror film from start to finish. As a previous collaborator on the “Saw” films, director Whannell was poised to craft a memorable and unnerving experience at the movies.

This is a disturbing and thought-provoking premise for a horror film, without a doubt. It also demands a nuanced, empathetic approach that doesn’t use stalking and gaslighting as a cheap horror device. 

If only Whannell had practiced more restraint. Much to my dismay, “The Invisible Man” often feels like Whannell flouting his showmanship above all else. Even though his cinematic techniques are certainly nerve racking and well-choreographed — frequent jump scares aside — character development and meaningful plotting are dreadfully sidelined.

This is a shame because Moss gives a truly lived-in, grounded performance that makes the proceedings all the more uncomfortable. 

Rather than flesh her out as the courageous, intelligent woman the opening scene portrays her as, Cass becomes a plaything for Whannell to unleash saddening displays of brutality and psychological destruction.

“The Invisible Man” features far too many scenes of Cass being attacked by her invisible abuser without the ability to fight back. Combined with the fine-tuned yet in-your-face camerawork, Whannell obviously loved crafting these scenes — perhaps a bit too much.

To make matters worse, the second half of “The Invisible Man” becomes a generic, confusingly plotted revenge thriller. Any hope for character development is literally shot to pieces, and Cass’ final stand comes across as a Hollywoodized sanitation of thorny subject matter.

Despite this moral repugnancy, “The Invisible Man” still has some qualities sure to satisfy the horror crowd, of which I’m not a member.  

I can’t deny the power of the film’s camerawork and voyeuristic elements, and Whannell stages dozens of terrifying sequences in the first half that left me deeply uneasy. 

The film uses point of view shots to maximize anxiety, forcing viewers to scan their surroundings just like Cass does. In several sequences, the camera plants itself, unmoving, on some corner of Cass’ surroundings. Can you find the invisible man? Where’s Waldo? He could attack at any moment — always with a jarring, aggravating musical accompaniment.

Perhaps I could enjoy “The Invisible Man” if it actually tackled its subject matter with knowledge and devotion to the characters at its center.

In its current state, the film contains a strong performance and camerawork desperately in need of a well-realized story.