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Film reviews: The Invisible Man / Portrait of a Lady On Fire / Color Out Of Space / Dark Waters

Sensational: Elisabeth Moss gives a stellar performance as Cecilia PICTURE: UNIVERSAL

THE BIG RELEASE

The Invisible Man

(15) ★★★★✩

BACK in 2017, grand plans were announced for the ‘Dark Universe’, a big bold Marvel-style interconnected franchise, based on Universal Studio’s classic monsters, including Russell Crowe’s Dr Jekyll (and Mr Hyde), Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster and Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man.

That concept crumbled into dust, however, thanks to first instalment The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, being so fantabulously awful no other movie would touch it with an entire lumberyard of bargepoles. Johnny Depp mysteriously vanished and all signs were this Invisible Man salvage job should too. Yet, against all odds, it’s blindingly good.A hefty percentage of what makes it classy is The Handmaid’s Tale’s Elisabeth Moss. This inspired twist on HG Wells’s original story puts this ‘Queen Of Peak TV’ centre stage as Cecilia, who, in the film’s heart-stopping opener, escapes her rich, controlling boyfriend (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) by leaping his mansion’s walls.

Cecilia hides out with her childhood friend (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter (Storm Reid) until she hears her ex — a genius optics scientist (wink, wink) — has committed suicide, leaving her his fortune. But Cecilia is convinced he is still alive and stalking her, even if others think she is having a breakdown.

Moss is sensational. No stranger to playing women fighting to retain their integrity in a world ruled by men, she roots this far-fetched fantasy in relatable fears — of toxic relationships, bullying and gaslighting.

All of which could not be more timely in a week where Harvey Weinstein was sent down. Yet the script never feels like it’s jumping on the #MeToo bandwagon. It’s also ridiculously entertaining.

Director Leigh Whannell, the writer of Saw, deftly pulls all the jump scares. It’s twisty and super tense and, in an age where blockbusters are so full of visual effects, it’s miraculous to find one that revels in what’s not there. Non-stop arm-clutching is almost a medical necessity. Don’t see this one alone or, if you do, be prepared to make a new close friend.

In cinemas nationwide from Friday

Portrait of a Lady On Fire

(15) ★★★★★

Gripping: Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in Portrait Of A Lady On Fire

WINNER of best screenplay at Cannes, nominated for ten César awards (the French Oscars), the Golden Globe and Bafta for best foreign language film and widely garlanded with five-star reviews, this lesbian period drama has been getting the same kind of acclaim as last year’s The Favourite — even if it’s a very different kettle of fish.

It’s actually 1993’s The Piano that most vividly springs to mind in the arresting opening images. A young woman, in a soaking 18th-century dress, washes up on the sands of a remote island near Brittany. She is Marianne (Noémie Merlant), an artist who has been commissioned to paint a portrait of a blonde convent girl called Héloïse (played by French superstar Adèle Haenel).

The portrait will be sent to a Milanese noble and, if he likes what he sees, he’ll agree to marry Héloïse. But Héloïse has other ideas. She refuses to pose for any artist, so Marianne has to pretend that she’s merely Héloïse’s companion, accompanying the girl on walks, while closely studying her features — then scuttling away to paint her in secret. All those burningly intense glances, however, eventually lead to more…

A woman, appropriately, directs this inspired study on the rich complexities of art and the female gaze. Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies, Tomboy, Girlhood) creates unique image after unique image here. Such as a group of young girls in an 18th-century life-drawing class — where they are not the models. Or a small round mirror placed over a woman’s genitals, reflecting another woman’s face. It’s a passionately erotic watch, yet never exploitative.

Slow burn to an eyelid-lulling degree, the hypnotic effect is enhanced by the layered natural soundscape — the soft crackling of the hearth fire or the wailing of the lonely French wind. It’s a drop-dead beautiful film to look at too. Tactile, soft and limpid. A film you want to stroke like your new lover’s cheek. And, it being ever so French, armpit hair fetishists are in for a feast.

Color Out Of Space

(15) ★★★★✩

Head rush: Richardson and Cage

EVERY Nic Cage film begs the question, ‘Just how “Nic Cage” will this go?’ According to this bonkers body horror/sci-fi B-movie, the answer is very.

Nathan (Cage) is a seemingly mild-mannered dad, who lives a happy, off-grid life in the woods with his wife (Joely Richardson), their three kids, a pet pussy called ‘G-Spot’ and a herd of alpacas.

‘You don’t get a lot of milk from an alpaca, but once you get ’em warmed up…’, Nathan declares, with a Cage-like glint in his eye.

Then, one night, a glowing ultraviolet meteorite crash lands into their yard, its baleful radiation infecting first the water well, the alpacas and then the family, with twisted results.

Based on an HP Lovecraft story, it’s a fun, messy, hallucinogenic head trip of a movie, shot with cosmic gorgeousness by cult director Richard Stanley. And if fans are kept hanging for a good one hour for the full signature OTT Cage freak-out — when it hits, boy, it’s a doozy. Tomatoes are involved. And they don’t win.

Dark Waters

(12A) ★★★✩✩

Dogged: Ruffalo as lawyer Rob Bilott

MARK RUFFALO can’t Hulk smash his way out of this situation. He’s real-life hero Rob Bilott, a lawyer who made a high-flying career defending big chemical companies. But Bilott turns prosecutor when it dawns on him that corporations might prioritise making millions of dollars over environmental accountability and sues DuPont, who are polluting the waters in West Virginia, causing mysterious deformities and cancers.

That DuPont’s signature product is Teflon will have you racing home to bin your non-stick pans. That’s the sole, pulse-pounding aspect of Carol director Todd Haynes’s surprisingly unexceptional legal ‘thriller’, which consists of Ruffalo doggedly wading through a big room of dusty box files for over 20 years, jeopardising his job, his health and his marriage to Anne Hathaway (wasted in a ‘wife’ role). Already depressed that modern life is killing us all? Prepare not to be cheered up.