James Jay Edwards reviews The Invisible Man, a new film adaptation of the classic H. G. Wells novel, directed by Leigh Whannell and starring Elisabeth Moss.
After the flop of Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, Universal pretty much shut down their plans for a cinematic Dark Universe of their classic monster movies. And that’s a shame, because who wouldn’t want to see Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster, Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man. Well, it may not be with Johnny Depp, but The Invisible Man did get made, with or without the rest of the Dark Universe.
The Invisible Man stars Elisabeth Moss (Her Smell, Us) as Cecilia Kass, a woman who, with the help of her sister Emily (Love Child’s Harriet Dyer), makes a dramatic escape from her abusive relationship with a brilliant optic engineer named Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen from The Haunting of Hill House). As Cecilia is hiding out at the home of her childhood-friend-who’s-also-a-police-officer James (Straight Outta Compton’s Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid from A Wrinkle in Time), she receives word that Adrian has killed himself. When her former boyfriend seems to continue his abuse from beyond the grave, Cecilia thinks that he may have figured out a way to master the art of invisibility in order to torture her. But, of course, who would believe a crazy story like that?
(The Invisible Man, theatrical release poster, Universal Pictures)
Writer/director Leigh Whannell (Saw, Upgrade) didn’t need a Dark Universe to breathe fresh and modern life into the old H. G. Wells story. Whannell’s The Invisible Man has motivations that differ from those of the anti-hero in James Whale’s original 1933 masterpiece. The motivations are even different from those of Paul Verhoeven’s 2000 clone Hollow Man. Whannell’s antagonist is just as evil and cunning as his predecessors, but this time, it’s personal. He’s all about getting revenge and gaining the upper hand on his ex, torturing her and tormenting her until she’s teetering on the brink of madness.
Elisabeth Moss’s Cecilia isn’t just a passive horror final girl, though. Her madness is caused more by those around her thinking she’s gone crazy than from actually being crazy herself. She’s a victim, but she does not play the victim. She’s intelligent and capable, almost to a fault as far as horror movies go (she figures out Adrian’s plan and methodology way faster than she should have, but maybe that’s a product of knowing the man so well from their relationship). She becomes a one-woman wrecking crew, a role model for the #MeToo generation.
(The Invisible Man, Universal Pictures)
Leigh Whannell creates tension and suspense with every frame of The Invisible Man. The entire movie is an exercise in paranoia and anxiety for Cecilia, and Whannell feeds those fears incredibly well, forcing the uncertainty onto his audience as he goes. Every time the camera lingers on a wide shot of a room, the viewer can’t help but look closely at anything and everything, wondering if the invisible Adrian is there, anticipating the movement of some object or another to signify his presence. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t, but the point is that Whannell makes the audience wait for it on the edge of their seat. And it’s all earned. It’s maddening.
So, as a movie, The Invisible Man is effective entertainment, both from a visual and a narrative standpoint. But, on another level, the movie functions as a handy metaphor for the trauma and PTSD that is inevitably suffered by survivors of abusive relationships. It also makes a powerful statement about how people rarely believe the stories that these survivors tell, instead choosing to think that the survivor has either gone crazy or is just fabricating their situation for attention. The metaphor gets a bit heavy-handed and obvious at times, with snippets of dialogue like “he will haunt you if you let him … don’t let him” and “he makes me feel like I’m the crazy one,” but sometimes, particularly with horror movies that have something to say, the message has to be spoon-fed. And, despite all of the controlling and gaslighting, The Invisible Man comes off as more empowering than triggering.
(The Invisible Man, Universal Pictures)
See The Invisible Man. See it early enough to avoid having all of the fun twists and turns spoiled. See it often enough to notice all of the little things that you may have missed the first time. And then take a friend to see it who will also appreciate the movie … and the message.