THE INVISIBLE MAN, the latest film from writer/director Leigh Whannell (Upgrade), is a modern adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic Universal Monster character which centers around a woman who finds herself being stalked by her abusive ex who is believed to be dead. The film stars Elisabeth Moss (Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale), Harriet Dyer (NBC’s The InBetween), Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton), Storm Reid (HBO’s Euphoria) and Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House). To best describe the plot, I will turn to the official synopsis:
“Trapped in a violent, controlling relationship with a wealthy and brilliant scientist, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) escapes in the dead of night and disappears into hiding, aided by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer), their childhood friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). But when Cecilia’s abusive ex, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), commit suicide and leaves her a generous portion of his vast fortune, Cecilia suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of eerie coincidences turn lethal, threatening the lives of those she loves, Cecilia’s sanity begins to unravel as she desperately tries to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.”
After the massive bomb that was Universal’s attempt at reinvigorating the Universal Monsters with 2017’s The Mummy (side note: the movie isn’t as bad as you think mainly in part because Sofia Boutella is incredible in it), I didn’t think we would ever see a modern adaptation of these much-beloved horror icons. Though to some that might be a good thing, I, on the other hand, was eager to see what could be created in the hands of the right person. Later that year we got Guillermo Del Toro’s love letter to Creature from the Black Lagoon in his Oscar-winning film, The Shape of Water. Now, in 2020, Australian screenwriter/director Leigh Whannell has decided to take on The Invisible Man. For those wondering this is not a remake of the original film, instead, it’s a modern adaptation that allows viewers a look into the horrors that unfold through the perspective of the victim.
Personally, this film absolutely terrified me and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire runtime. That said, there is no supernatural boogeyman or creature hiding under the bed. Instead, it’s a near-perfect depiction of what women face every day in society: gaslighting, abuse, assault, not being believed, and more. Then there is the fear after leaving an abusive relationship – the fear that he’ll stalk you, that he’ll find you. That notion of never feeling fully safe and always thinking you’re seeing the person out of the corners of your eyes. Of being watched. It’s horrifying and one of the many reasons why I found THE INVISIBLE MAN to be the scariest movie I’ve seen this year. Whannell captured true fear while also illustrating the realities that many people, in this case, women, face when no one believes them.
What’s really impressive about this film is the visual and practical effects used to achieve not only the look of the Invisible Man but also the incredible fight scenes that take place between Cecilia and the Invisible Man after he attacks her. Since the film focuses mainly on Cecilia, it was up to the VFX crew to make the Invisible Man not only believable for Cecilia, but also to the audience watching. I can’t put into words how brilliant the end result is, but believe me when I say it’ll have your jaw on the floor. I was lucky enough to hear Whannell speak about the film after the screening I attended and he discussed how they also used practical effects for some of the more “supernatural” aspects, such as the cabinet doors opening on their own, etc. I did find it fun the ways in which we get to see Adrian in his suit, such as when Cecilia throws an open can of paint into the air only to reveal how close he truly is to her. I’ll admit, that scene, in particular, made me jump out of my seat.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the acting in the film. First and foremost, Elisabeth Moss‘s performance is devastatingly powerful. Every emotion is conveyed entirely in just her eyes alone, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the difficult roles she has played in the past. To me, this is one of the most compelling parts of the film as it shows the extent and damage that emotional/mental abuse, as well as domestic violence, can have on an individual. You can’t help but want to save Cecilia, to fight for her, to make everyone around her believe what she’s saying. But luckily, as we come to find out, she’s not someone that should be messed with. On the flip side, you then have Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Adrian, aka The Invisible Man. Having been a massive fan of his after seeing his performance as Luke Crain in The Haunting of Hill House, I was excited to see him play a role opposite of that. Adrian is so manipulative that at one point in the movie I leaned over to my boyfriend and said, “I want to punch him in the throat.” That said, I enjoyed the fact that we didn’t get to see much of Adrian in the flesh because it allowed the audience to not get emotionally attached to him or make excuses for his action.
Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid, who play father/daughter duo James and Sydney, both give excellent performances of a family struggling to come to terms with what they perceive to be the downward spiral of someone they deeply care for. It’s frustrating to watch at times because you just want them to believe Cecilia, especially considering that James is a police officer. However, I think their performances indicate what most people would do if someone they loved was talking about being stalked by an unseen presence. Lastly, Harriet Dyer, who plays Alice, gives a complicated performance as Cecilia’s sister who doesn’t quite understand the full extent of the circumstances Cecilia was in prior to escaping Adrian and now. I’m not saying I didn’t like her character, but I do wish we had gotten a little more backstory to understand why she so quick to waffle between her treatment towards Cecilia.
Lastly, Leigh Whannell’s directing and writing are another example of what makes this film shine. I would say to date that this is definitely his best and it only makes me more excited to see what he does next (I’d be all about another Universal Monster film from him). What I appreciated most about this film was the way in which Whannell demonstrated how women are treated today. It’s easy for people to say that this is just another film showing a woman being abused, but that’s not what this movie is about. Wrapped in a Universal Monster movie is a film that deftly showcases a #MeToo storyline as well as displaying the constant barrage of disbelief and rejection that are directed at women who speak out about abuse. This movie brought up a lot of memories from my past that I wasn’t prepared for, but it also allowed me to speak about it openly with my partner after the movie ended. Furthermore, Whannell crafted a film that showcased true terror without relying on cheap scares or gratuitous gore and violence. When it comes to THE INVISIBLE MAN some of the most chilling moments are in the stillness of certain scenes that make you question what you are actually seeing.
So should you see THE INVISIBLE MAN? Yes, absolutely. However, those who are triggered by themes of abuse may want to wait until they can see it with friends or when it becomes available on home video. Though the film was hard to watch at times due to the themes mentioned above, there is a strong sense of hope that gains traction the closer we get to the end of the film. This results in a climax that left a large smile on this critic’s face. In all, Leigh Whannells’ THE INVISIBLE MAN goes to show that the Universal Monster films can be adapted for modern audiences as long as they are in the hands of the right person. All that said, it’s safe to say THE INVISIBLE MAN is set to be one of the best horror films of 2020 and one that is not to be missed when it’s released in theaters this Friday, February 28, 2020.