In the very first few moments of The Invisible Man (2020), without any exposition or any sort of narrative cues, Leigh Whannell manages to ratchet up the tension to unbearable levels in such a beautifully simplistic way, that I couldn’t help but be in awe of just how effortlessly he had managed to bring us right into the tormented world of Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), as she desperately attempts to flee her oppressively cruel boyfriend, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who has cut her off from the rest of the world. Cecilia manages to break free of Adrian and his abuse, but that’s only the beginning of the horrors that await Cecilia as she tries to put the pieces of her life back together here.
Cecilia’s journey takes an abrupt turn when she learns that Adrian has inexplicably killed himself, and left her a hefty portion of his fortune. And as she tries to settle into a new life free of Adrian’s reign of terror, Cecilia begins to suspect that her ex isn’t dead after all, and has found a way to continue to browbeat her at every turn.
For his take on The Invisible Man, Whannell focuses more on the lasting and all-consuming effects of trauma more so than framing his narrative around the film’s titular villain’s scientific experimentations, which was the case in H.G. Wells’ original book as well as with James Whale’s 1933 adaptation. Admittedly, it’s a smart move on Whannell’s part, as it’s a way for his 2020 film to stand out in comparison to its predecessors, and when it comes to “remakes” (albeit, I don’t even feel like using the term remake here is correct—it just feels more like a reinterpretation than anything), that’s exactly what you want: something that adheres to the spirit of the original film (and/or book in this instance), but also takes some risks and does something different, which Whannell does here in a variety of ways.
By switching the focus from the “mad scientist” character to the woman who has suffered because of his rage and his means of manipulation, this iteration of The Invisible Man becomes a powerful and haunting cinematic allegory for those who are forced to live with the lingering effects of abuse in all of its forms. This switch provides Whannell a multitude of opportunities to tell a far more intimate story set in this world than we have ever seen before, as we watch poor Cecilia’s life continue to spiral out of control even after leaving Adrian behind.
There are the obvious means of harassment, including numerous parlor-esque tricks of invisibility meant to leave Cecilia questioning her own sanity. But things go even further at times, where the various means of torture end up not only isolating Cecilia from those that she loves, but also destroys various aspects of her life in cruel, vicious ways. And it’s in those moments where The Invisible Man crawled right up under my skin, leaving my nerves absolutely frayed as a result.
On a technical level, I could probably gush over so many different elements of The Invisible Man for eons, so I’ll try to rein myself in here. But there are so many aspects of this film—cinematography, sound design, visual and practical effects, as well as Jeff Wallfisch’s gorgeously ominous score—that make Whannell’s latest a real standout amongst its contemporary horror peers. I will say that from the very start, Stefan Duscio’s cinematography (who Whannell also collaborated with on Upgrade to thrilling effect) brilliantly sets the tone for this iteration of The Invisible Man’s haunting exploration of paranoia and psychological aggression with a very patient lens that is meant to leave audiences guessing at times, and completely frazzled at others.
Back in 1933, the original Invisible Man movie dazzled audiences with its cutting-edge visual effects that were able to remove its star Claude Rains in a variety of mind-blowing ways. And what I love about this new version is that Whannell’s Invisible Man also serves as a showcase for what great visual effects can do for modern filmmaking. And yes, you might be thinking right now, “Well, the character’s invisible—what’s there to see?” Without giving anything away, I can promise you that Whannell and The Invisible Man definitely do have some tricks up their proverbial sleeves, and they were spectacular to behold.
As the emotional anchor for The Invisible Man, Moss gives a career-best performance here, which is saying something considering she’s been continually giving career-best performances for years now. But here, there are so many layers to how she plays Cecilia, fully committing to this role that demands so much of her, both physically and mentally. And it may sound weird to say this, but there are particular challenges Moss faces here, because she is often playing to an empty room, and if it were not in the right hands, those moments could have come off as silly or even overdramatic. But Moss just throws herself into Cecilia here, 150 percent, and I absolutely loved everything about her performance and the arc that her character is given in The Invisible Man as well. Her journey is relatable, harrowing, and the things Cecilia must endure make it easy for us to want her to not only survive, but rise above them in the end.
Being a bit of a Universal Monsters fan, admittedly, I was already primed to love this version of The Invisible Man after the very first trailer hit (which I will say, does NOT give away everything in the film, so, fear not—there are still quite a few surprises to be had). But after seeing the film itself, Whannell exceeded all of my wildly geeky expectations to create something that feels right in line with what you’d want from an Invisible Man film, and then some. The various nods to the original book and film were very much appreciated by this geek, and I love how the story also stands on its own as a powerful examination of the lasting effects of abuse, all while delving into some pretty nifty technology-driven sci-fi to boot.
Movie Score: 5/5