Released: March 2020
Director: Leigh Whannell
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: $7 million
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.
After finally leaving her long-term abusive boyfriend, Adrian Griffin (Jackson-Cohen), Cecilia Kass (Moss) finds herself unable to shake his oppressive presence when, following his apparent suicide, she suspects that he is still stalking her.
Remember The Mummy (Kurtzman, 2017)? Well, that was supposed to be the latest attempt by Universal Pictures to launch the “Dark Universe”, a series of interconnected horror/action/science-fiction movies that would bring together the classic Universal Monsters for the first time in decades. However, The Mummy tanked and Universal were forced to change their tactics and focus, instead, on standalone stories that reimagined their horror classics. Personally, I didn’t find it to be that and a movie and the cast that Universal had assembled for their dark Universe was very impressive and promising. Veering away from the Johnny Depp-starring vehicle, Universal instead turned to Leigh Whannell to create a modern take on The Invisible Man (Wells, 1897) that bypassed the classic Universal horror of the same name (Whale, 1933) and, instead, concerned itself more with being an intense thriller with elements of sci-fi and horror mixed in.
One day, after years of being trapped under the thumb of her sociopathic, controlling boyfriend Adrian, Cecilia decides to creep out in the dead of night after drugging him; as she’s being picked up by her sister, Emily (Dyer), Adrian tries to attack her but his threat seems to be over when, two weeks later, it is revealed that he killed himself.
Cecilia has hidden herself away from Adrian and the world by moving in with her friend, James (Hodge) and his teenage daughter, Sydney (Reid). After Adrian’s lawyer brother, Tom (Dorman), reveals that Adrian left Cecelia $5 million, she finally begins to turn her life around. However, she soon begins to feel Adrian’s presence looming over her everyday life; after years of abusive and mistreatment, her fears are dismissed as paranoia and shock but, before long, things start to happen that can’t be explained away and Cee begins to suspect that her former lover, a world leader in optics, has faked his death, discovered a way to make himself invisible, and is stalking her, destroying her relationships and life bit by bit to force her to return to him.
What separates The Invisible Man from other adaptations is its singular focus on the victim, rather than the titular antagonist; normally, Invisible Man stories and their contemporaries revolve entirely around a man who turns himself invisible and is slowly consumed by its intoxicating effects. Here, though, we follow Cee as she succumbs to fear and hysteria, not only from the threat of an actual invisible man, but also the lingering effects of her toxic relationship with Adrian. There aren’t enough words to describe how great Elisabeth Moss is at portraying a woman who is struggling to return to normal, everyday life and is clearly traumatised by her abusive boyfriend and also seemingly haunted by his continuing presence.
Surrounding her is a similarly decent cast; Hodge and Reid have great rapport with Moss and you definitely believe in their platonic, yet loving, relationship. There’s some friction between Cee and Emily that goes back to their childhood, but it’s not really expanded upon and takes a backseat to the more pressing concerns about Cee’s mental health, and there isn’t much for Tom to really do except exist as another victim of Adrian’s destructive behaviour.
Ostensibly, The Invisible Man is a tense thriller; there’s some really unique framing choices and camera work at use here to make you feel on edge and uncomfortable at all times, as though there really is another, unseen man present in most scenes. Whannell favours building tension over a high body count and this keeps the film on a razor’s edge; once the pace picks up, things get even more intense as we follow the deterioration of Cee’s mental health…but it’s far from perfect. As a big fan of The Invisible Man, I wasn’t really expecting this to be a character study of the trauma victims of abusive relationships can suffer through. To be fair, judging from the trailers, I was expecting little more than a jump-scare thriller, so it was surprising to find the film had so much meat on its bones but I have some issues with its execution and pacing that spoiled the experience for me.
First of all, there is and invisible man in this movie; the trailers made this pretty explicit but the film does a really good job of making you question whether it’s a ghost, an invisible man, or just all in Cee’s head. However, I feel this is a bit disingenuous; I went into it expecting an invisible man and wanting to “see” an invisible man, so to constantly beat around the bush was a bit frustrating.
We don’t ever really get much of a sense of who Adrian really is; he’s talked about at length but there’s not much time spent on why he was so abusive to Cee or what drove him to form such destructive relationships with people. It saps him of some of his menace and makes him, instead, he’s just a silent stalker who dispatches those in his way with little effort. It turns out that Adrian developed a special suit comprised of loads of little cameras that allows him to appear invisible; this is a change of pace as, usually, invisible men take a serum that renders them invisible but, while the suit may be more “realistic”, it carries exactly the same issues as a serum does…and even a few more. For example, the suit completely covers Adrian, so how does he see out of it? Its skin-tight surface is covered with plastic and cameras so, surely, he would make quite a bit of noise when he moved and, if he somehow didn’t, his muffled breathing would be hard to disguise.
Also, somehow, Adrian appears to be superhumanly strong; he can lift Cee with one hand, toss her across rooms, and beat men to death, or close to it, without much problem. I don’t really see how his fancy suit helps him do that, even though it does make for some impressive action and kill scenes in the film’s final act. The big twist turns out to be that Tom is in on it all too; Cee remains steadfast that Adrian put Tom up to it, however, and takes it upon herself to kill Adrian herself (cloaked in his same suit) to finally gain some catharsis but it’s left ambiguous as to whether Adrian did actually stalk Cee while invisible or if it was always Tom…or the both of them. And yet I find it hard to really care as neither man is Claude Rains (hell, they’re not even Kevin Bacon!) and reducing the invisible man to a silent killer sucks a lot of the charm and menace out of the normally talkative antagonist.
The Invisible Man is one hell of a tense, nail-biting thriller; the film does a masterful job of building tension and suspense and Elisabeth Moss puts in a great performance as an emotionally-scarred victim but, in the end, I just couldn’t really get into it. Despite the film’s interesting take on the classic Invisible Man formula, we’re left with a poorly-defined villain and some forgettable supporting characters; the all the tension and build in the world can’t overcome the fact that The Invisible Man overstays its welcome for way too long (the film doesn’t seem to know how, or when, to end and drags on and on) and sacrifices too much of the original source material and concept to tell an otherwise moving story of a victim of abuse.