BLACK ADAM (2022)
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Update of the classic H.G. Wells story finds Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) running from her relationship with her abusive, control freak boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). She’s helped by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and is living with her friend James (Aldis Hodge), a policeman, and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Two weeks after her daring escape, she hears that millionaire Adrian has committed suicide and even has left her a large sum of money. She thinks she’s free of him, until strange things start to occur around the house and someone starts messing with her life. There are hints that it’s Adrian and soon Cecilia is convinced he’s somehow still around. The events continue to escalate, but no one believes her that her ex is somehow the cause and soon those close to her start to doubt her sanity. Is Cecilia crazy or is Adrian somehow still alive and stalking her for revenge?
Flick is extremely well written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who cut his teeth writing for the Saw and Insidious movies. Whannell showed the potential for solid direction with his debut, Insidious: Chapter 3 and the 2018 Upgrade, but really comes into his own here. Not only is the script a clever updating of a story that is well over 100 years-old, but adds in some contemporary themes, such as domestic abuse, stalking and the effect of abusive relationships, in a way that perfectly blend with the story. Here our scientist is a psychotic, Tony Stark-ish, millionaire optics expert, one who uses his brilliant new technological invention to stalk and terrify his ex-girlfriend, rather than benefit mankind. In the director’s chair, Whannell starts the film off with a very tense and suspenseful scene of Cecilia trying to escape from Adrian’s bed and home, while he is in a drug induced sleep. The film gives us just a brief moment to breath before things start going on in James’ house and Cecilia starts to believe Adrian is not as dead as the world thinks. She sees his touch in all that is befalling her, sometimes literally. No one believes her, especially when the invisible stalker frames her for murder and everyone is convinced she’s crazy. It’s a tense, suspenseful and very effective ride as Adrian could be anywhere…and usually is. When Cecilia begins to fight back, all hell breaks loose leading to an intense showdown. Whannell gets a lot of milage out of mixing a classic story with contemporary story elements, but wisely never let’s it go over-the-top. By keeping things grounded, we go along with even the more fantastic parts of the story, such as the manner in which invisibility is achieved. It’s not perfect. When things start to happen in the house, Cecilia skips right over other possibilities, such as, maybe, a haunting and goes right to invisible man. Sure, she knows better than anyone Adrian’s intellect and optics expertise, but it’s hard to swallow, that she’d leap straight to that conclusion so quickly. That and after the exciting and violent final showdown, there are a few additional scenes that continue the story for another few minutes. An extra chapter after we thought it was done. It comes to a chilling conclusion, but sort of takes the flick into an extra inning that doesn’t quite match the momentum of what came before. None of it’s flaws are critical to the film’s effectiveness, but, as said, the flick is not perfect.
Whannell has a good cast. Elizabeth Moss gives a strong performance of a woman terrified to the point of feeling like she’s loosing her mind. When Cecilia starts to fight back, you fully believe she’s a woman driven to the point of finally standing up for herself. As we don’t actually see samples of her abusive relationship with Adrian, we still feel it’s potency based entirely on her performance. Great work. Oliver Jackson-Cohen has only two brief scenes and is fine. Again, most of his character actions are portrayed through Moss’ reactions and FX, so he hasn’t much to do physically. He is appropriately creepy when we do see him. Aldis Hodge is solid as supportive friend James. As a cop, he is forced to walk a thin line with what he can believe once Cecilia begins to rant about being stalked by a man who’s supposedly dead. In more supporting roles, Harriet Dyer is fine as Cecilia’s sister, Emily, Michael Dorman is appropriately slimy as Adrian’s lawyer, brother Tom and Storm Reid is likable as James’ daughter, Sydney. A solid and effective cast.
A very effective thriller from Leigh Whannell. It’s tense, suspenseful and mixes contemporary themes into it’s sci-fi/horror story very well. It’s paced efficiently and moves quickly for a film over two hours in length. There is some shocking violence to punctuate certain scenes and really recreates the fear of someone being stalked and manipulated to maximum effect. It has a few flaws, but otherwise shows Whannell has really locked in his directorial skills and one looks forward to whatever he comes up with next.
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) invisible men.