Between all the pandemic-mandated video conferences and cooking and cleaning and my kids’ remote schooling, I watched just over a dozen movies in March. That’s only about half of what I saw the previous month, way back when life was normal—or at least when we we were all still laboring under the mistaken impression that things were normal. Of course, anything I managed to watch I watched at home, since cineplexes are not an option. But I did get to see “The Invisible Man,” which was only released in theaters at the end of February and is already out on home video. I do sorely miss theaters but I have to be grateful too to live in an age when there are so many ways to watch new movies.
Happy as I was to see it so soon, unfortunately I found director Leigh Whannell’s new take on “The Invisible Man” to be a bit of a drag. It’s less a 21st century horror film than a fairly ludicrous ’80s-style domestic thriller in the “Fatal Attraction” mold. And while it does cleverly invert the perspective of the story by focusing on the title character’s besieged love interest, it’s so overly impressed by its wokeness that it can’t stop announcing its own virtues to the audience. Subtle, it’s not. All that said, “The Invisible Man” is still reasonably suspenseful and so not a terrible way to spend two hours. Plus, Elizabeth Moss. Her performance here, like pretty much everything she’s done for the past decade, is proof that she’s one of our great living actors.
Like a lot of people I also went back and rewatched Stephen Soderbergh’s 2011 medical thriller “Contagion” which, if you haven’t seen it, you’ve probably still heard about how it was eerily prescient about our current circumstance. I’m still not sure I quite understand the perverse curiosity that made revisiting this pandemic tale irresistible (The Times took a crack at explaining the phenomenon in this article). It’s a bit like the lure of horror films, I guess, or maybe the base appeal of masochism in the face of impending doom.
By contrast, I also tried, for a minute, to watch Wolfgang Petersen’s “Outbreak” from 1995, a similar tale of a world overrun by pandemic. I’d never seen it before but from its very first frames it was so clearly unconvincing, so Hollywood, I couldn’t bear to keep watching and turned it off. As a film, “Contagion” is so much scarier because it’s so much more real, but what’s truly captivating about it is Soderbergh’s singular ability to tell a story that feels both unflinchingly realistic and escapist at the same time. Every frame, every cut, every line of dialog feels both objectively, almost clinically detached and also emotionally vibrant, even skewed. The verisimilitude is horrifying, but the artistry is mesmerizing.
Film audiences have really come to take Soderbergh for granted in recent years, probably due at least in part to his obvious compulsion for working constantly. He released two superb films in 2019, “High Flying Bird” and “The Laundromat”, that barely registered in popular conversation. It’s a bit sad that it took a horrific global pandemic for us to go back and appreciate how amazing “Contagion” was. It’s a reminder that he’s made over a half dozen equally worthwhile films since.
Here is the complete list of all fourteen films I watched in March.
“Early Man” (2018) ★★½ Charming but weightless, and disappointingly short on ambition for an Aardman film.