We are introduced to Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) in the dead of night, desperately trying to escape the luxurious fortress home of her husband, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). One of the tensest cold opens in years follows Moss through what appears to be a well thought out plan. Unlike other famous horror opening scenes, however, Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man lets you feel the gravity of the situation from pretty much the first frame. He only ramps up the tension from there, while driving home the protagonist’s motivation without a word of dialogue.

lets you feel the gravity of the situation from … the first frame

To say any more about the plot would do a disservice, and you can go check out the trailer for the basic story beats. While the movie is far from “spoiled” by the trailer, the broad strokes are there. Traditional “invisible man” stories tend to focus on the titular male protagonist, studying how invisibility affects a person’s mental (Memoirs of an Invisible Man) or physical (The Unseen) health, or just plain turns him into a rapist (Hollow Man). Bucking the trend, Whannell’s script focuses on his victim, an abused spouse portrayed brilliantly by Moss (UsThe Handmaid’s Tale). The years of physical abuse and emotional manipulation take their toll on her as the invisibility powers give her husband the ability to ratchet up the torment to unspeakable levels.

Her support group consists of a family friend, played by Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta ComptonBlack Mirror), and a sister, played by Harriet Dyer (Killing Ground). But Whannell expertly scripts situations that are simultaneously understandable and devastating as the constant gaslighting isolates Cecilia. It’s impossible not to feel sympathy as her accounts are constantly questioned and disbelieved.

one of the year’s best theatrical experiences

Visually, The Invisible Man is every bit as stunning as you’d expect, given Whannell teams up once again with cinematographer Stefan Duscioi (Upgrade, Sweetheart). Deliberate camera movement drives tension and sets up jump scares like the seasoned pros they are. What’s more, the various effects used to let us “see” the invisible man are impressively on point while consistently leaving clues as to the origins of the phenomenon. Throw in an imposing score by Benjamin Wallfisch (Blade Runner:2049It: Chapter 1Dunkirk), for one of the year’s best theatrical experiences so far.

The Invisible Man is playing in theaters everyone February 28, 2020.