Directed by: Leigh Whannell || Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie du Fresne
Screenplay by: Leigh Whannell || Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Music by: Benjamin Wallfisch || Cinematography: Stefan Duscio || Edited by: Andy Canny || Country: United States, Australia || Language: English
Running Time: 124 minutes
I’ve discussed Universal Pictures’ misguided, failed attempts at launching interconnected, extended franchise reboots of its classical monster titles (e.g. The Wolfman , The Mummy , Frankenstein , etc.) before, as well as the studio’s subsequent reevaluation of that concept in the wake of Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy (2017) remake, which was a financial and critical failure. Less detailed on this site are my thoughts on contemporary horror “phenomenons” James Wan and Leigh Whannell, both of whom rose to prominence with the influential Saw (2004), directed by the former and written and costarring the latter. While I’ll concede Wan’s coherent artistic vision, not to mention his ability to operate within the suffocating confines of big-budget Hollywood productions without losing that vision, I’ve been a fan of neither the Saw nor The Conjuring (2013, 2016) nor the Insidious (2010, 2013, 2015) franchises, and remained unimpressed with Whannell’s work in particular until the well received Upgrade (2018). My skepticism of Whannel’s ability to rework Universal Studios’ Invisible Man remake, which by 2019 had been converted to a standalone project, remained high until its unanimous critical praise arrived.
Even more surprising, however, was this new Invisible Man’s complete reboot of its original premise (a scientist concocts a magic potion that renders himself invisible in both the 1933 film and H. G. Wells’ 1897 novel) into a story about a woman (Elisabeth Moss) terrorized by an abusive boyfriend (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), whose stalking of her is aided by an advanced technological suit that bends light around him. If any part of that setup feels corny or forced, trust me, it’s not. Leigh Whannell’s Invisible Man is not only one of the better horror or science-fiction films released in the past decade, but as far as reboots, remakes, and re-imaginings in cinema are concerned, its modernized premise is as creative and refreshing as the recent Planet of the Apes (2011, 2014, 2017) trilogy.
Whannell’s direction is stellar throughout, building his narrative on the strong foundation of a terrific opening sequence free of dialogue and chock full of subtle visual storytelling. Moss’ escape from her wealthy boyfriend’s compound is a nail-biting experience, establishing mood, narrative stakes, and informing both protagonist and antagonist in minutes with zero exposition. The rest of the film is of similar quality, utilizing its core premise to emphasize visual storytelling and mise-en-scène in particular over pointless dialogue, often in wide shots that invite the audience to search for clues as to the titular villain’s location. If you’ve ever woken in the middle of the night from a nightmare or felt paranoid while isolated in your home for long stretches of time, that feeling of unease and being watched permeates most every frame of The Invisible Man. I’ve long maintained that most horror movies, including and especially slashers, are extensions of people’s fear — usually women’s fears, hence the “final girl” trope common to horror filmmaking but few other genres — of stalkers, and that philosophy is near perfected, here. How director Whannell portrays his transparent antagonist after his presence is known further heightens this tension, despite my worry that characters fighting or fleeing from an unseen threat would be goofy a la Bird Box (2019). Through a clever combination of framing, blocking, and tense sound-design, the threat of an invisible stalker is powerful.
The other major ingredient in this film’s success is Elisabeth Moss’ performance, which is both sympathetic and nuanced. Her arc throughout the story is believable and satisfying, illustrated in part through her physical performance as a timid, cowed victim in the beginning and a determined, if traumatized individual by the end. Her line delivery and dialogue are also strong, but given the film’s emphasis on visual trickery over needless drama, her body language sells her character.
The Invisible Man’s shortcomings are minor, but consistent enough to criticize, including how its antagonist is completely silent in every encounter, has inexplicable strength of a man twice his size (our see-through villain is implied to be 1-2 different actors, neither of whom is the size of Dwayne Johnson), and relies on the tired, unrealistic cliche of being a super-wealthy, super well connected, super-genius a la Iron Man (2008, 2010, 2013). Given the thematic overtones of The Invisible Man, these real-world details are somewhat beside the point as far as Moss’ character development goes, but the sheer implausibility of much of the villain’s catlike grace and unparalleled wealth are distracting in parts.
Overlooking those numerous yet minor nitpicks, The Invisible Man represents a stark turnaround for Universal Pictures’ rebooted “Classical Monster” titles, which have stumbled for years with the likes of Joe Johnston’s Wolfman (2010), Gary Shore’s Dracula Untold (2014), and Alex Kurtzman’s Mummy (2017). Leigh Whannell’s latest success, on the other hand, shelves the franchise copycat ambitions of previous titles in favor of a stripped down, minimalist standalone feature that re-envisions its classical villain for the modern age. Only Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves’ Planet of the Apes remakes are comparable in terms of their success as contemporary reboots, and given my love for that trilogy, everyone should consider my praise for the new age Invisible Man high, indeed.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Conservative in terms of production values yet inventive from a directorial standpoint, Leigh Whannell takes full advantage of topical themes to portray a horrific “monster” as frightening for its implied presence as the shark of Jaws (1975). Elizabeth Moss gives a wonderful physical performance that shows both growth and vulnerability in a “final girl” role that outclasses most slasher heroines, comparable to Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch (2016) and Lupita Nyong’o in Us (2019).
— However… The Invisible Man’s eponymous villain works from a thematic and stylistic perspective, not a literal one. Is there much of a point to him being an ultra-wealthy business tycoon?
—> The Invisible Man comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
? You could have had any girl you wanted. Why me?