We’re living in an era of perpetual remakes. Studios are desperate to find familiar films to update and forge into financially viable cinematic forays with franchise potential. Universal has been trying to modernize its iconic monsters for a while with mixed results. “The Mummy” (1999) with Brendan Fraser was a fun adventure while 2018’s “The Mummy” with Tom Cruise was an incoherent and idiotic nightmare.
Leigh Whannell’s “The Invisible Man” proves updating classic stories can be effective and entertaining; mostly because everyone involved understands the thrilling concept of a person who can turn himself invisible doesn’t require a huge budget or a ton of special effects. The heart of any good scary story involves the psychology of terror being inflicted by a monster. This version of HG Wells’ classic science fiction story focuses on the tormented victim rather than the Invisible Man.
Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is in an abusive relationship with Adrian, a Silicon Valley supergenius working in the field of optics. Adriana’s control over her is brutal and unrelenting. The film opens with Cecilia’s desperate attempt to leave the beautiful cage of their home and escape to a new, torment-free existence. She barely escapes but is still very much in the grips of the psychological torment Adrian has inflicted. After a few weeks of living in fear of his inevitable return, Cecilia learns Adrian has taken his own life and left her a life-changing inheritance.
For the first time, Cecilia has a shred of hope that there are better days ahead. That feeling quickly dissipates as she begins to feel she is being watched and strange things begin to happen. An unattended stove catches fire. A kitchen knife disappears. She hears footsteps and voices in the dark corners of her room. Cecilia’s friends and family think she’s suffering from PTSD from an extremely abusive relationship. Cecilia comes to quickly believe Adrian is alive and invisible, and wants to make her suffer.
There are a lot of clever nuances to “The Invisible Man.” The idea of making the lead character a survivor of domestic abuse is interesting and unsettling. There’s an added level of dread and doubt that factors into Cecilia’s ongoing struggle with nobody believing her; something real-life victims of abuse have to deal with every day. Moss is such a gifted actress; she makes Cecilia’s descent into madness extremely believable.
The deeper Cecilia dives into her belief that she is being stalked by an invisible man, the more her friends and family begin to believe she’s very quickly losing her mind. The movie goes to some dark, bloody and horrible places as Cecilia’s life is reduced to one tragedy after another. There’s a healthy blend of real-life terror and horror-movie thrills, which are fresh and fascinating.
The film’s second half abandons some of the more grounded psychological elements for some more traditional horror-movie thrills. There are some exceptionally well-staged scenes featuring the Invisible Man that feel creatively engaging and exciting.
“The Invisible Man” is a super-entertaining effort. It doesn’t require a huge budget or ridiculous, over-the-top storytelling, just a core element to make the concept interesting and tell a compelling story. “The Invisible Man” goes small where so many other monster movies go big. This model of smaller, more contained horror works extremely well for this film. If Universal is smart, they’ll hand producer Jason Blum the keys to their monster toybox and let him apply this filter to other franchises.
My only complaints revolve around some of the more implausible dramatic moments. I had no problem suspending my disbelief that a genius could figure out how to become invisible, but since when can a witness to murder just leave the crime scene before being debriefed by the police? Could someone really wash paint off themselves using a kitchen sink without leaving a trace?
This is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in recent years. It single-handedly proves how much fun this genre can be when in the right hands.
The Invisible Man
Rated R, 2 hr 4 mins
Directed by Leigh Whannell
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer