Review: The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man. Directed by Leigh Whannell. Universal Pictures, 2020.

Premiere Impressions

            When I first became aware that there was another adaptation of The Invisible Man on the horizon, I served up a big eye roll. Not because I’m not interested in the property or the concept, but because I assumed Universal was once again trying to establish their “Dark Universe,” a Marvel-inspired franchise of films where the studio would compile their existing roster of classic horror monsters for various action movies. The Invisible Man now gets the distinct honor of joining various other pieces of evidence that my counselor can use to prove that I need to try being less judgmental. Leigh Whannell’s new take is a smartly crafted thematic experience that honors the original’s horror roots.

            The Invisible Man wastes no time in setting up the key character conflict in the film: Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) must escape from her relationship with Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). In the suspenseful opening sequence, Cecilia escapes with the help of her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer). Cecilia moves in with James (Aldis Hodge—let’s put him in more movies, please) and his daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid), where she tries to move past her fear of her ex. After a brief period, Cecilia is informed that Adrian committed suicide and left her five million dollars. Finally feeling free of Adrian’s control, Cecilia starts to live her life again, but just as she does, she starts to feel that Adrian is still tormenting her, even if she can’t see him.

            As audience members, we know that what Cecilia experiences is real. The camera does not exclusively follow her perspective, so we see moments where Adrian enacts or prepares his abuses. Even so, the sequences where Adrian “haunts” her are suspenseful and unnerving. Instead of using dark space to hide the monster, like most other horror films do, The Invisible Man uses any space. Adrian’s invisibility logically allows the monster to be anywhere at anytime, and the film uses this trick to great effect. Not only does this create a suspenseful atmosphere for each scene, no matter the location, it also creates some intensely shocking moments (I do not want to give any specific examples, as I do not want to spoil any of the surprises).

            On paper, the set-up and the execution may seem a bit obvious, but the film does an excellent job of utilizing the concept as a way to explore domestic abuse. Cecilia spends the majority of the movie trying to convince the people around her (family, friends, law enforcement, doctors) that she is being tormented by Adrian. Cecilia is taken from her friend’s home into custody, and, eventually, placed in psychiatric care, and her accusations are considered less credible in each location. Though I am not an expert on the subject, the research I have done indicates that this reaction is common for survivors of real-life abuse. People can be quick to dismiss or invalidate accusations for which they cannot themselves corroborate, no matter how many times the victim reaches out. The film does an excellent job of making sure the audience empathizes with Cecilia as she fights to be heard.

Post-Screening Snippets

  • Well-directed horror films are the place to be right now for stellar performances by lead actresses. Elisabeth Moss demonstrates incredible range here and the film would not be nearly as effective without her.
  • Has anyone shouted “Adrian” this much since Rocky?
  • Though I do not want to spoil anything, I feel like I should note I’m still not sure how to respond to the film’s ending.
  • Leigh Whannell’s footprint on contemporary horror is undeniable between the Saw and Insidious franchises, both of which he primarily worked on as a screenwriter. The Invisible Man is likely his best work yet.

The Final Tea

            The Invisible Man is sure to become an important text for analyzing me too-era horror and proves there is a way to do horror remakes right. The Invisible Man is the Little Women of horror reboots.


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