The Invisible Man (2020)
Following the crash and burn of 2017’s The Mummy, Universal Studios’ attempt at a classic Monster’s Cinematic Universe was buried before it even breathed life, releasing its stars and creative talent and freeing themselves to do something original with the individual concepts of the monsters. Now, just under three years later, a new version of The Invisible Man has made its way into our cinemas – and the failure of a shared universe might have been the best thing to have happen.
After escaping her abusive boyfriend, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), is attempting to regain her sense of self and the independence she lost whilst together with him. After he apparently commits suicide, she begins to experience strange happenings and starts to suspect that her ex has managed to design a way to become invisible, torturing and gaslighting her as his act of revenge.
Bringing the premise of Universal’s classic horror character up-to-date is a smart decision on the part of writer/director Leigh Whannel, departing from the pre-ordained Johnny Depp version the studio wanted to integrate into their shared cinematic universe. Working closely with Moss in pre-production, they have instead decided to focus on this particular monster’s victim, a vulnerable yet determined woman eager to escape this moment of her life and start afresh. The film is given far more urgency by installing the themes of domestic abuse, rape, and the work women have to put in to ensure she is believed. It’s delicately, yet clearly handled by Whannel’s writing, which neither hammers you over the head nor brushes the difficult topics under the rug.
Bolstering the innovative script, the movie is lead by an incredibly game Moss, a fantastic performance, even by the actor’s already well-decorated standards. In it’s little over two-hour running time, there is not one second in which you don’t believe there is someone in an apparently empty room with her. The film hinges on her, her desperation becoming ever more apparent as she tries to convince people of her sanity, and it’s hard to imagine someone more adept at playing exposed yet steely than Moss.
Despite being a film about a see-through person, there are very few visual effects (this is Blumhouse, after all), Whannel instead deciding to implement a more practical approach to the antics of the antagonist. At one point, the camera fixated on an empty kitchen, the heat on a stove is turned up in order to set it on fire, an effect seemingly done in shot without cutting. In fact, for a horror, it is an incredibly still film – from the get, shots of Cecilia getting changed, putting away clothes, or having a shower are panned away from to an empty space, questioning whether or not The Invisible Man is already there, or we’re just imagining it, leaving us to our own devices to suspect the worst.
The doesn’t mean to say that the film is without its scares. Despite being a quieter, more psychological thriller than an orgy of jump-scares – although there some, far more effective than your standard fare – it is incredibly fraught with tension, from a painfully uneasy opening escape sequence, to a more violent occurrence in a restaurant, and it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that the more frightening events of the film pull from the unknown, the un-seeable, than the easier option of blood and gore.
The film has its flaws, though they are few and far between. At 124 minutes, its length is felt, the third act seemingly turning to a fourth in the last 15 minutes or so, giving off the impression that its message could be slightly more succinctly told - but it’s a minor quibble. With an original take on the story, some inventive direction by Whannel, and a great lead performance by Moss, gratitude is felt that the Depp version was never realized.