R (for some strong bloody violence, and language)
February 28, 2020
For nearly two decades, Universal Pictures has tried but failed to revamp their legacy monster movies as fantastical, action-packed adventures. Their grander vision ultimately included a shared cinematic universe that culminated with an Avengers-style monster mash-up. After The Mummy (2017) starring Tom Cruise failed to reanimate any real interest at the box office, the studio was forced to pull the plug on the prematurely announced “Dark Universe,” which would’ve seen some of Hollywood’s biggest stars taking on those iconic roles.
Instead of trying to force yet another square peg into a round hole, the studio smartly handed creative control of their monsters over to Blumhouse, a frequent collaborator as well as one of the production houses that pioneered last decade’s horror renaissance. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise then that the studio has found a way through Upgrade filmmaker Leigh Whannell to not only maintain the horror pedigree of The Invisible Man, but also give us the most terrifying and relevant take on his story since he first appeared (so to speak) in the pages of H.G. Wells‘ short story way back in 1897.
Instead of following an inconspicuous, cackling fiend (no offense to the great Claude Rains or even Kevin Bacon for that matter), Whannell smartly shifts the narrative focus onto a much more relatable heroine for the contemporary audiences in Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss). We quickly learn that Cecilia’s boyfriend, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), isn’t just a leading mind in the field of optics, he’s also a master manipulator and overbearing control freak.
After Cecilia barely escapes from their prison-like California home with her life during a tense, tightly executed opening sequence, news drops that Adrian has taken his own life and left all his worldly possessions to his estranged hostage. Just when life seems to be turning around for our traumatized protagonist, she starts noticing strange goings-on that grow increasingly lethal and ultimately point to Adrian as the culprit. Eventually, Cecilia becomes convinced that her obsessive ex has discovered a way to turn himself invisible and secretly stalk her. If only someone would believe her!
The suspense of The Invisible Man– and it is suspenseful– doesn’t come from questioning whether or not Cecilia is actually being stalked by an unseen entity. Whannell makes it objectively clear early on that indeed she is. Rather, the core suspense lies in not knowing exactly who or what that entity is, when and where they’re going to strike next, and frantically pondering how Cecilia is going to make it out of the movie alive (all the while crossing your fingers that she does).
It goes without saying that none of this would even matter if we didn’t care about any of these people in the first place. Credit to Whannell here as his script allows just enough time for us to grow attached to Cecilia, her sister (Harriety Dyer), her best friend James (Aldis Hodge), and James’s daughter (Storm Reid). He also gets stronger performances from each of his actors. There isn’t a weak link in the bunch. That said, Invisible Man is ultimately a one-woman show. Every scene depends on Elisabeth Moss to sell any combination of complex emotions, the likes you’d expect out of a victim who’s spent years being simultaneously abused by one person and disregarded by others, and like a well-oiled machine, she delivers. Though it’s still early in the year, I don’t foresee film fans forgetting Moss’s performance by the time next year’s Oscars roll around. She’s that good.
Whannell and his cinematographer Stefan Duscio utilize the camera to further pile on the dread. Long, deliberately paced pans across a number of scenes allow the audience ample time to study seemingly empty frames for any slight movements or change in scenery that could signal that the Invisible Man is near. Claustrophobic close-up’s and POV shots seal the deal. Always do you feel trapped alongside Cecilia by the invisible threat, sharing in her fear as well as her adrenaline whenever she’s forced to confront it. It makes for a thrilling, well-balanced moviegoing experience.
Whannell does take his share of creative liberties with his story, as all movies do. More than once I found myself questioning the legitimacy of how certain scenarios would play out in the real world. Had The Invisible Man been a lesser film, these leaps in logic would’ve been much more distracting. As is, they are nothing more than mere bumps on a road that you’re not exactly sure where it leads, but you can’t help but enjoy the thrill of its many twists and turns.
Those are my thoughts on the The Invisible Man. Have you had a chance yet to check the film out for yourself? If so, do you concur with my opinion? Or perhaps you have a different point of view? Either way, sound off in the comments below and let us know all your The Invisible Man thoughts!