The New Mutants (2020)

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It’s definitely been a long and winding road to get to this point. This apparent and likely finale to the ‘X-Men’ series has battled through delays of all kinds and 3 years later, is it a film worthy of the wait?

After a freak snowstorm, Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) wakes up in a facility looked over by Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga). Dani comes to realise she’s not alone in this place and shares freakishly powerful abilities with four other young mutants who are being cared for and monitored, mostly to help them control their newly found gifts. However, Dani might have brought along a demonic ability that needs to see them work as one.

Whether or not you’re a comic-book fan, the ‘X-Men‘ universe is rife with eclectic characters and seeing a younger cluster of mutants in a darker setting makes for exciting reading on the page. When it is transported to the screen is frustratingly when the spicy expectation of a cool superhero horror fails. It would have been neat to see the comic-book movie world mauled with horror tones, but in a similar way to ‘Brightburn’ the mix doesn’t work and produces something with less impact than desired.

On top of this lacklustre horror element is the often exposition-heavy script, which seems even more forced considering the four other teenagers would surely have asked each other the screenplay’s questions in the time they’ve shared before Dani rocks up. There’s also a speedy, cliched way the movie builds a budding romance between two of the characters and you can see the finale a mile off. A film of distant youths needing to work together is so-so here and no less predictable than every hundred other times it’s been done.

The demons might not be scary and the CGI isn’t that well honed but there’s some nifty ideas amongst the ‘Shutter Island’ environment, which makes the domed cage of their own lockdown a chilling place. The creepiest figure isn’t the climactic creature but slender men like the Silence in ‘Doctor Who’, albeit these nightmarish people have wider, toothier grins.

Charlie Heaton dons a Southern drawl but doesn’t stand out, but he’s not lost to the shadows like boring Brazilian playboy Henry Zaga as Roberto. It’s a shame too that the film debut of Blu Hunt sees her turn as good but not amazing. She leads us into the confined world of dark powers but it’s Maisie Williams is almost the star of the show with a Scottish accent and furry complexion with love and loyalty on the cards, played with convincing charm. Anya Taylor-Joy is the real delight though, as she seems to be having fun in a film she knows isn’t good. The Russian accent, the purple puppet companion and her bunched horns of hair equal a devilish creation.

‘The New Mutants’ is nothing new and maybe some will say it should have carried on facing indefinite delays for all time but there are engaging moments and shady qualities to hook onto.

5/10

Tenet (2020)

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Well, obviously there is a lot to be said about this movie, not just in terms of the filmmaking and story, but the circumstances of its cinematic arrival and director Christopher Nolan’s adamant stance to have it be the first big screen release post-lockdown. Pandemic pain aside, is Nolan’s latest a time-bending gem or a film best set to snooze?

After a rollicking siege at a Ukrainian opera house, an agent (John David Washington) comes to find out bits and pieces of a technology which can manipulate time. Cue a James Bond like hop, skip and bungee-jump across the world as he works with Neil (Robert Pattinson) and Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) to try and stop the “Tenet” tech being used by the wrong people.

When you utter the word Nolan you conjure up images of blockbuster visuals with intelligence and ‘Tenet’ does fall into that category, like a time-orientated ‘Inception’ with many plot strands and deep ideas filling the runtime. There is no denying that the look of this big, big movie are impressive. The opening set-piece is an exquisite step into the world of the story, plus other action moments get their deserved cinematic outing. All of this should have audiences enjoying the marvel of big-screen thrills once again but the narrative can be a head-scratching jumble.

One of the most staggering problems with this film is the sound. Christopher Nolan adores IMAX and ear-shredding levels of noise, but he seems to forget that it shouldn’t take precedence over the importance of dialogue; especially with a plot this filled with sci-fi intricacies. It’s hard to get immersed in the fun of the fair because you struggle to hear what’s being said or generally don’t have the foggiest notion what is happening.

Perhaps this is the director being; getting audiences back in for repeat views but the film basically being about stopping a timey-wimey device falling into bad hands could have been easier to follow. Cut back on the expositional chatter which somehow still doesn’t clue you in 100%, fix the sound mixing and be less convoluted. There’s no need to dumb down and be Michael Bay levels of blockbuster but if you’re hard-pressed to keep track of the film, thanks to blaring sound and plot progressions then it’s easy to clock out.

There’s likely plenty of people who will love the film. People who’ll be on board with every complexity of the story and if you just go along with it then fair enough. The film is by no means a waste of time though. The acting is impeccable; John David Washington is a suave and convincingly adept spy figure. Pattinson has some of the best lines to speak and Debicki is a great figure of intellect, fear and fury.  Ludwig Goransson provides an exceptional score which will no doubt in Oscar contention, as will the beautiful and well choreographed work of cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema.

‘Tenet’ ticks along nicely and you’ll flit in and out of total enthralment of a smart, but sadly not perfectly executed Christopher Nolan outing.

6.5/10

Spree (2020)

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Screeching out of 1980’s Hawkins, and slap bang into the whirlwind of our digital era is Joe Keery, on blistering form as a wannabe online personality. It’s fair to say that ‘Spree’s message of how damaging the crave of validation can be on the nose and skimming the surface instead of burying deeper, but does that lose this film a like and follow?

Kurt Kunkle (Keery) has grown up dreaming to be famous on the internet but has never amassed more than double figure numbers for his videos. Now taking on a job as a Spree driver he comes up with a plan dubbed “The Lesson” which he hopes will see viewers flock to his brand but darker and darker actions are taken by Kurt as he amps up the desire to reach more followers.

This black comedy spins wildly into horror before you really know it. At the beginning you sense there’s something off about Kurt, but he’s sad and pathetic and you kind of root for his sense of fame, which only goes to make our engagement in his life regrettable; as the young man veers into a maniacal state we too veer uncomfortably into bloody terrain.

Statements like being annoyed at non-uniformity in landscape or portrait videos or homeless people not being known by the wider world, firmly show the obsessive personality of Kurt. Of course the road he takes is a screaming ride of death but this exaggerated terror is not a million miles away from what we see online. It’s this critique of social media as a whole that can be viewed as correct but also shallow.

The film whacks a mega-fist at the life of social media stardom and the problem of that mostly vapid like-for-like world. This message stretches beyond breaking point and keeps on going, there’s also a moment in the movie where you vaguely feel tired of the rampage but a horror house climax hits with jumpy moments to lure you back in, I guess nicely mirroring the similar pull of our apps. So then what some may call a weak, shallow nature in ‘Spree’ and its digital damning others can argue as perfectly apt for the hollow landscape of being an internet celebrity.

Scarier than the 24 hours of carnage planned by Kurt is the reality that we’re having to grow up in a world where some people feel that not gaining hearts or retweets is a curse. The influencer plague has spread far and wide and Kurt is not too distant from the empty-headed douchebaggery of Jake and Logan Paul. That’s why this film works well because it is a debauched descent into an onslaught of cameras and comments we’ve all seen many times.

Joe Keery is a demonic eyed bundle of enthusiasm, pushing anger away from the usual tropes of rage but into more concerning acts of normality. This lesson plan is just a jaunt for him and Keery possesses a sly smile as if to show how much he’s having fun both as Kurt and an actor. We’re fully on this trip with him and you might possibly question your backseat acceptance, as we watch a messed up night wrapped up in shiny entertainment.

‘Spree’ psychotically highlights how fame can come off the back of a good or bad voice, it doesn’t matter as long as your voice is loud enough. It isn’t anything new about social media but the balance of evil and charm within Joe Keery gives the film solid status.

7/10 

Unhinged (2020)

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Revving past the rotating stop sign of COVID-19 theatrical releases is this breakneck thriller directed by Derrick Borte. The notion of angsty drivers and bad car etiquette is slammed to near breaking point in a film that definitely suits the big screen experience.

Rachel (Caren Pistorius) is frequently tardy to client bookings and her son’s school run and one such morning she winds up honking her horn at the wrong driver. The Man (Russell Crowe) behind the steering wheel has completely snapped and after an explosive opening, we see him seek revenge against Rachel no matter the cost.

If like me, anytime a movie character is driving and begins to look elsewhere or hold a conversation, you start fearing any and all imminent scrapes or deathly pile-ups, this film will set your heart rate to stratospheric levels. ‘Unhinged’ is certainly a loud blast to crash back into cinemas after a long time silent and the vehicle-heavy setting is enough to bring palpitations to anyone who expects the worst when scenes are on the road.

Screeching brakes and burning rubber ring out of the speakers and pelt into the audience’s bloodstream, creating a near 100% anxiety ridden wave of car-ography that will have some watching wishing cinema screens came with seatbelts included to buckle up and hold on for dear life with. And, well if you’re not on edge at any point in this flick then you’re someone likely to have experienced or started road rage of a far worse situation and others should worry about your bumper-crawling ways!

The Man is filled with a nasty beast of anger and like a beast he stalks his prey across a concrete savanna; mauling and ripping apart any grazing cars in his vicinity. Russell Crowe plays this character with gusto, of which some would say is hammy but I call a shlocky snarling, scowling figure of sweat and ferocity owning the freeways and side streets in any chance to wreak bloody vengeance. Caren Pistorius, like Lohman in ‘Drag me to Hell’ is firmly put through the ringer as she speeds desperately around New Orleans in a frenzied manner and the performance is one that really pulls you into the needed heart of a story that would otherwise be teeming with rage and testosterone.

‘Unhinged rarely takes its foot off the brake, with each skid of a car or thwack of a heavy punch leading right into the next nail-biting, teeth-grinding moment of brutality. The anticipation of something bad about to happen is thick, as if always on the sidelines waiting for its next chance to ram into the narrative. Granted this is not a stellar film and won’t win awards for subtlety but I’m positive it hits the green light for future cult B movie favourite.

If you want a big screen experience that ticks the boxes of spills, thrills and loud and proud tension then you can’t do any wrong by heading along to see this blast of a movie.

7/10

Bloodshot (2020)

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This film, based on a comic book of the same name, was one of the last newly released cinematic features before the big C-word closed down multiplexes and countries the world over. After a long spell of self-isolation and too much TV and baking, would ‘Bloodshot’ be a movie worth my venturing back to a cinema for?

U.S Marine man Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) has received many scars from his line of duty but always fulfils his promise to come home to his wife. However a tragedy leads him on a destructive course of revenge led by cybernetic CEO Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), as his bloodstream has been turned into a hotbed of nanite technology making him super strong and quick to heal.

‘Bloodshot’ sure won’t win any prizes for originality or being smart enough to keep audiences on the wrong-foot but there just enough moments that assist a scraping of enjoyment to it all. Perhaps one half of the writing team being Jeff Wadlow provides reason for a shaky screenplay, but gladly it’s not worse than the likes of ‘Fantasy Island’ or ‘Truth or Dare’, what is worse however is the other half of the duo being Eric Heisserer who himself seems to be placed in some induced state and forced to do this. That’s the only excuse I can think of for someone who wrote the film screenplay for ‘Arrival’ and now this.

It’ll be no surprise to anyone that the movie comes from some producers of ‘The Fast and Furious’ franchise because this supposed comic-book superhero flick feels like a dud half-sibling of that speedy car/heist saga. Diesel shedding his Marine gear in the beginning to reveal his trusty white vest would leave plenty thinking Dom Toretto has become a fully-fledged super-fighter in his days off from racing souped up vehicles.

The character of Ray Garrison doesn’t need much in the way of acting so Vin is the right guy for the job; punching his way through problems and peppering the dialogue with his trademark gravelly voice. There’s only so much of this cliche you can take and the film pushes that to near breaking point but the likes of a slick ‘Iron Man 3‘-esque turn from Guy Pearce and a soft yet kicky presence from Eiza Gonzalez help distract from the brain-dead fast and furious nature this body-dropping movie becomes.

In terms of action, there are definitely highs and lows and not all of the sequences are tampered with the excessive CGI button. There is most definitely a good burst of adrenaline through the majority of the runtime and even if it’s all dumb, it is dumb fun. Lamorne Morris from ‘New Girl’ stardom brings the funny plus the Dick van Dyke approach of British accent work. The scenes are pacy and a barrage of extreme revenge seeking lights the way like some angry flare.

‘Bloodshot’ might not be the choice for you if you’re hoping for a fantastic fix of action but if, like me you haven’t been to a cinema for what feels like an entire year, then this is an acceptable feast of carnage that whets the post-lockdown appetite.

5/10

Scoob! (2020)

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Is this newly released VOD animated film a slavering Scooby snack or a meddling mess? Well it runs down a never changing corridor of both, with fast quips and cartoonish capers adding to the tasty joy but a hodge-podge of characters detracts from the very soul of Scooby Doo and company.

As a youngster, Norville “Shaggy” Rogers (Will Forte) can make no friends until one day on the beach he’s acquainted with a stray pup who he bonds with and names Scooby Dooby Doo. Flash forward ten years and the ever-hungry duo have grouped with Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and Velma (Gina Rodriguez) to create Mystery Incorporated. However their usual hijinks may be put to the test as a dastardly menace needs their prized pooch to claim treasure from the Underworld.

At first glance the visuals seem off and perhaps if, like me, you’ve grown up with the trademark hand-drawn styles of Mystery Inc, then the new blocky computer animation takes a while to warm to. Also, the general opening with seeing how the crew take shape is less than necessary, as three of them are already together anyway. This is a tale strongly following the core relationship of Shaggy and his first true mate and though it’s never resplendent with emotion there is a sense of heart to their developing and unravelling spark throughout the 94 minutes.

There are other positives along the way, the comedy of pop culture and buffoonish brilliance takes a golden stride in a cheaper but no less satisfying reflection of ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ and little character quirks within the famous five are done nicely, even with hearing these well-loved, well-known characters’ voices not sounding the part. It all feels zippy and carries an energetic vigour to prevent any fidgeting boredom from kids watching and has enough buzz for the millennials and older who know the gang inside and out, plus Scrappy never rocks up so that’s a blessing also.

The main problem aside from Will Forte sounding like himself and not Shaggy is the jumble of Hanna-Barbera properties tied into some frenetic universe. The cinematic landscape has quite clearly shifted thanks to the likes of superhero movies and sadly this animated release takes on that formula by including heroes, big baddies and is complete with its very own sky-beam.

What makes the simple yet effective model of the original cartoon TV series work is the admittedly repetitive yet intriguing notion of friends uncovering mysteries. This film yanks out the soul of the show and replaces its unmasking and clue solving by revealing the villain and their plan; therefore you lose all sense of delicious self-involvement to guessing who might be hiding under the cowl/mask/costume. It’s also a story that ends without the smoke and mirrors act normally put on to try and thwart Mystery Inc and instead there’s a real hellish breakout which even for Hanna-Barbera seems a cartoonish step too far.

‘Scoob!’ has some cutesy moments and the trials of friendship are explored quite nicely, plus it all slides along with speed but the mystery is lost and you’re just left with an incorporated jumble from Warner Animation.

5/10

Misbehaviour (2020)

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Fighting the system and tackling the patriarchy are key themes in this drama based on the real events surrounding the 1970 Miss World competition. There are a few fiery moments which scorch a trail of sisters doing it for themselves but it’s not the revolutionary delight it could have been.

Struggling to have her voice heard in a male-dominated educational world is Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) who winds up joining a no-nonsense, law-breaking group of women’s movement ladies. As the titillating and derogatory Miss World rolls into town, Sally and the others hope to enact a protest against the show; which might just be a hopeful vision of glory for Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as the first Grenadian and black contestant.

The Miss World contest is an event led and ruled mostly by white men, who gawk at women parading in evening gowns and swimwear. They’re seemingly there to be desirable and attractive with nothing else to offer and the film neatly parallels talk of them being in a cattle market with shots of them being herded like cows. The male gaze is utilised well in terms of breaking it down and highlighting the vapid, sexual nature of these shows, even if there are points when smashing the oppressors is over-egged.

Philippa Lowthorpe directs this film with a protesting surge of movement and on the most part it does indeed succeed, but you can’t shake the feeling that her background in shows like ‘The Crown’ and ‘Call the Midwife’ have this appearing like a TV movie that doesn’t ever feel comedic or dramatic enough. What does work well, alongside the performances, is the showcasing of cheesy glitz and concerning sexism of pageantry which froths into a whack of female anger come Sally and her new friends making a stand in the theatre.

There are glowing moments backstage due to the connection between Hosten and first black participant of South Africa Pearl Jansen striking up a bond in their situation. Their success in proving to young girls of colour that they can be a success, is at odds with the tearing down of the contest. It’s not like the film doesn’t know that you can have opposing views but they seem to rub against one another and come across like two different movies swirling into a blotchy mix.

At least the end has an empowering stance and seeing the real life figures works well as do the rostra of fine actors including the ever-fierce dynamics of Jessie Buckley. She plays Jo Robinson with wicked fire and adds a lot of energy to the movie. Greg Kinnear delivers the right amount of smarmy ‘can-do-no-wrong’ attitude to a privileged man ogling girls much his junior. Lesley Manville doesn’t get much screen time but in just a couple of seconds during the aftermath of the Miss World calamity she shows a satisfied grin which is pure perfection.

The cast are excellent and deserve a crown for their performances and there are pleasing moments both within the women’s movement and in the model’s line up but it’s nothing groundbreaking and feels like a short-lived wave of empowerment.

6.5/10

The Hunt (2020)

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There are movies that must like to bank on hype and the blaze of media; whether good or bad, and ‘The Hunt’ is unquestionably one of those examples. The poster above is evidence enough of the creators knowing what they’ve made has and will incite people. Slated for release last year but pushed back due to mass shootings and POTUS Wotsit-face; this movie is finally out but should the hunt be on?

A group of strangers wake up gagged and unaware of their location. It quickly becomes clear they are being hunted by a collective of liberal elitists who view these people as prey thanks to their standing in the world. The likes of Emma Roberts, Betty Gilpin and Justin Hartley face a nightmarish world as bullets and arrows go flying.

It begins like a ‘Battle Royale’ with cheese as a play-area zone is set up to best track and kill a pre-selected list of victims. Even though there are big problems with the film, there is an abundance of guilty fun to be had in watching this prolonged section of cat and mouse play out. It’s also an act that subverts expectations as body counts rise and you won’t be able to call what happens next.

The stakes are high and anyone is fair game…quite literally but as the numbers dwindle the movie grows into an uncomfortably weird spot of not knowing what tricks to pull and instead falls back on the controversial angle; of which it was most likely delayed for in the first place. The line between mocking down-and-outs who might support Trump and the elite company who are or desire to be crystal-clear upstanding citizens is firmly crossed and becomes a ridiculous battle of wits and punches that in the final sequence feels very ‘Mom and Dad’.

It’s a shame because the blood-heavy intrigue vanishes and a snap back in time hollers about freedom of speech and internet hysteria. It isn’t only this random scene which includes dialogue which is incredibly on the nose but a lot of moments have less than subtle social/political commentary which will no doubt be cause for rubbing many right or left wing keyboard warriors up the wrong way. Also, the less said about a dull lengthy take on the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ story the better.

That said, there are gleeful moments of tension and manic gore and Betty Gilpin Glows as the GI Crystal with awareness, tenacity and strength to spare. So, if you can switch off and overlook the less than successful satirical elements and Orwellian culture then hunting season is a go and you’re ready for a dumb, yet mostly entertaining shock show.

6/10

 

Onward (2020)

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Pixar is an animation studio that almost never fails to stir up emotions in astounding worlds of creativity, and ‘Onward’ is a film that has even more to play with thanks to its fantasy-based setting. The themes of gaining confidence and brotherly acceptance are gloriously explored with sights and sounds that’ll make you rejoice.

Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) is an awkward teen who never met his dad, but upon his 16th birthday he’s gifted a supposedly magical staff and spell which could bring his father back for one day. The incantation goes awry but with the help of his magic-adoring brother Barley (Chris Pratt), they set off on a quest to find a rare gem that might let them see their dad.

You can feel the ‘Monsters University’ atmosphere dripping into this realm; director Dan Scanlon’s effort on that sequel helps inject a colourful, fantastical palette of monsters, pixies and elves to a story that is truly about family and bonding. The mixture of ye olde wonder and new-time gadgetry is a neat starting point for a story environment, so visuals like a plane gliding nicely through a clear sky over grassy hills which could have been lifted out of ‘Brave’, demonstrate the playful aspect of opposing imagery.

It’s rooted within these more fantasy-laden elements that the movie swirls with a stimulating shimmer of magic and sibling-building. As is often the case with the brilliance of Pixar, the emotion and sparkle of storytelling are a triumph and you will no doubt be transported into a dazzling example of animation thanks to simple yet effective writing, a bewitching score that never overwhelms and interesting dramatic stakes; some which can be predicted but others shall surprise and excite.

The story comes to a bold final decision and it’s one which showcases the strength and journey of Ian’s character. The quest changes him but it also alters people and the world around him for the better. The adventure-making of this plot is pure joy to watch and you feel connected to every step of their expedition. What makes you invest so well into their experience are the effective voice performances. Holland and Pratt convey a genuine connection of squabbles and kindness which glows like a phoenix gem; their acting is the beating heart which is jubilant and eye-watering.

‘Onward’ upends the fantasy genre with stray unicorns and managerial manticores which all boils together to produce a fun twist on the notion of magic. The modern world replacing the ancient traditions are a clever idea and everyone who worked on this film ensures there is spectacle and soul in every panel.

8.5/10

 

The Invisible Man (2020)

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This reboot of a movie series by the same name, is one which no longer stands as part of the swiftly assembled, then broken Dark Universe and thank goodness, because this individually-told story is immensely gripping and boasts a stellar performance with Elisabeth Moss demonstrating light and shade.

After believing she’s finally achieved freedom from a damaging relationship, Cecilia Kass (Moss) is distressed that her controlling husband is back from the dead and stalking her in a way that means he cannot be seen. As the fear takes hold of her, Cecilia begins losing the very people she needs in her life and may have to rely on some inner vigour to prove Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is invisible.

As a member of the audience you’ll worryingly share in Cecilia’s sense of being horrendously on edge. The filmmaking and storytelling from Leigh Whannell is incredibly slick and through the sleek visuals there feels a nasty coldness to the horror on show. The plot is certainly one that keeps you gripped and Whannell sure knows how to build and masterfully sustain tension throughout the film.

Never have empty corners and blank spaces carried such paranoia; but in ‘The Invisible Man’  there is dark wonder by filling these seemingly bare areas with a dread buried in your gut. This is a Blumhouse Production with a paranormal activity of a very different and much more troubling kind. The fear of an unseen force pierces the story better than a spooky ghost could; this is because the invisibility is owned by a life-wrecking power.

The idea of control and abuse is what lifts the film to disturbing heights and as Cecilia becomes more crazed in her determination to uncover the truth, Elisabeth Moss plays that part with gusto; you fully believe how she can be viewed from both sides. Either a strong woman with the reality of her dilemma making her look mad or erratic decisions having the ignorant view her as losing herself. The moments she has to deal with are haunting and when she needs to rise, she is a figure that may prove her worth and close a vicious chapter in her life.

Whannell incorporates the stylistic traits of ‘Upgrade’ in a few places which livens the alarming nature of this invisible menace. A ward-based sequence has the camera bounce around and truly show off the onslaught of the invisible man with a pulsating Benjamin Wallfisch score that vibrates through your skull like an anxiety-inducing anthem. The only weaknesses with this film are some self-gripes in plot conveniences; none more so than his means of hiding flicking on just when anyone else could see and off just for Cecilia to see. That and an early tussle between him and her looks shoddily like a mix of CG and stunt-work that ruined what could have been a nightmarish introduction to his violence.

There is definitely shock and apprehension to be had in watching ‘The Invisible Man’, the most powerful quality of it aside from Moss is Whannell’s hold on a dark and brooding tale of manipulation and power play.

7.5/10