“Movie Review: The Invisible Man”
Much has been made about Universal’s misguided attempt to launch “Dark Universe”, a series of films starring the studio’s classic monsters that started and abruptly ended with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy in 2017. After that failure to launch, the studio gave up on trying to combat the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and instead allowed other filmmakers and studios to use some of their classic monsters. The first of those partnerships is Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man, which updates the H.G. Wells classic tale for the modern day in both setting and theme. Whereas the original story and Claude Rains 1933 film detailed the slow descent into madness of the main character after he gains the power of invisibility, this new take from writer/director Leigh Whannell (Saw, Upgrade) instead puts the focus on Elizabeth Moss’ Cecilia, who believes that she’s being tormented by her abusive ex after his death.
Shortly after leaving her abusive ex Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in the middle of the night, Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) is contacted by his estate. Cecilia learns that Adrian has committed suicide, and is named the sole benefactor of his large fortune from founding a breakthrough optics company. Still reeling from the torment she endured from her time with Adrian, Cecilia has trouble just making it to the mailbox of her friend James’ house (Aldis Hodge), and the weird occurrences happening around her aren’t making her recovery any easier. The stove catches fire. Items she put in one place suddenly aren’t there. And she’s certain that she is being watched at all times. As more and more coincidences happen, the more Cecilia believes that Adrian isn’t dead, and has somehow found a way to continue torturing her. But she can’t prove what she can’t see, so how can she get anyone to believe her?
Obviously Invisible Man is a horror movie thriller for our time, and it wears that on its sleeve to great effect. Cecelia’s struggle to get her friends and family to believe her is an obvious metaphor for the rise in Me Too movement we’ve seen over the past few years, and it’s used to incredible effect here. I’ll be the first to admit that when this new version of the story was announced I was pretty skeptical, but once I saw the first trailer and saw that this was essentially “gaslight: the movie” I was sold, as that’s an absolutely brilliant spin on this story. Switching the focus of the narrative away from the Invisible Man himself and onto one of his victims is a simple but extremely effective move, and adds a whole new level to the film.
The entire cast of this film is fantastic, but Invisible Man belongs fully to Elizabeth Moss. The Mad Men and Handmaid’s Tale star has long been known as one of the best actress currently working, and she gives a next level performance here. Throughout the two hour runtime, Moss goes from terror to despair to hope to deranged to fully assured in what she has to do, and she’s a revelation in the role. This comes as no surprise to those of us who have followed her career for years, but seeing her take this lead role that is very challenging and absolutely knock it out of the park is still nice to see.
Credit also goes to Leigh Whannell, who sets up a mood and tone that makes you dread what’s in that empty corner rather than laugh at the fact that we’re looking at an empty room. There’s a HUGE sense of dread of menace that permeates every scene, and Whannell’s direction of the camera to focus on things just out of sight, or pan around the room at different moments create a huge sense of unease, so we have no idea if Adrian is in the same room as Cecilia or not, just like her. Whannell’s script also deserves a lot of praise for tackling some extremely difficult themes, and at least in my opinion they were handled appropriately and correctly, showing that the true monsters in the world don’t need special abilities to cause menace. It’s very easy to imagine a version of this film that either doesn’t work, or ends up being unintentionally hilarious, yet Whannell and his crew give this story the treatment it deserves to fully resonant with the current culture.
The horror genre isn’t known for it’s subtlety, and that’s pretty apparent with Invisible Man. But as obvious as some of the themes this film is tackling, it’s pretty amazing at how well they’re accomplished here. I know it’s only February, but I’m fairly confident that by the end of the year, Invisible Man will be on my list of top movies of the year, and that Elizabeth Moss could get a few nominations when award season comes around. Not only that, but Invisible Man is so confidently made by Blumhouse that I sincerely hope that Universal allows the studio to use more of their famous monsters to see what other new modern spins they can take with them. If they’re half as good as this, then the monsters of yesterday could easily become the monsters of today.