Universal Pictures has been trying to revitalize its catalogue of classic monsters for modern times. Previously was the truly lame 2017 movie The Mummy with Russell Crowe sagely informing Tom Cruise that there was a larger world of Gods and Monsters, setting up a shared monster universe like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There was a Dark Universe label and group photo of actors who were supposed to be in this monster universe. The Mummy tanked and a planned tie in with Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man was torpedoed. Fast forward a few years later and Universal has eventually remade The Invisible Man that doesn’t seem tethered to the previous craven cinematic universe building efforts, no Russell Crowe cameo, no Tom Cruise, not even a post–credit tease.
Instead, this Invisible Man is harrowing, surprisingly gory and emotional tale. Usually movies about the invisible man make the disappearing guy the centre of the story but this takes the unique tactic of making the movie about their victim as she is literally in every scene and practically every shot. This film is a parable of about abusive relationships and while it may turn up the melodrama a bit much when it kicks in for the Invisible Man scenes it nicely increases the tension and supplies bone crunching visceral action. This isn’t some limp wristed wannabe blockbuster it’s a gripping horror movie with ideas.
Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) has escaped her abusive spouse, Adrian (Oliver Jackson–Cohen), and is hiding out with friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). One day Cecilia’s sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), informs her that Adrian has taken his own life but his brother, Tom (Michael Dorman), acting as Adrian’s attorney, tells Cecilia that she has inherited Adrian’s fortune. Things are looking up as Cecilia wants to start a new life and help Sydney pay for college, but soon she is seeing, or more accurately not seeing, a presence around her. Certain things go missing or people get hurt, and Cecilia is convinced that Adrian is invisible and tormenting her as the situation becomes increasingly deadly.
Naturally, everyone just thinks she’s crazy which is a standby of the horror genre as the hero hollers there’s a monster behind it all while they get locked up in the loony bin. This Invisible Man has an incredibly slow burn, so much so that at times it feels almost stagnant. What’s inventive about this movie is how it never does the same invisible man gag twice. A standard move in this story is to see an object floating in midair yet it does not happen often here, but one time it happens leads to an absolute jaw dropper of a scene.
There are a lot of different ways to reveal the invisible individual and one of the best, earliest looks at the invisible man involves Cecilia throwing a bucket of paint which creates just the briefest flash of something unworldly. One of the movie’s best scenes is set in a hospital where the invisible man goes on a rampage, flickering in and out of view as he takes on a hallway of security guards in a dizzying single take. Benjamin Wallfish’s musical score helps as it’s discordant atonal noise that accentuates the terror. The final scene of the movie is riveting and plays things ambiguous just enough that it is either righteously triumphant or super dark. The way the stalker becomes invisible gets a unique twist with a sci–fi bent that seems somewhat more plausible than previous efforts.
Moss is the centrepiece of the film. Some of her emotional trauma scenes may get a wee bit overwrought, at one point she is literally weeping curled up into a fetal position on the floor, but she believably conveys a victim of abuse and starting to fray. She also has done this in quite a lot of episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and this is a bit similar to the arc that June has in that show of victim to crusader. Still, this movie does repeatedly underline that she has been abused emotionally which unfavourably contributes to the two–hour plus running time. Making the invisible man an allegory for abusive relationships works really well. Usually invisible man movies are inherently about voyeurism, but this makes an abusive ex a literally omnipresent threat that cannot be escaped.
Hodge and Reid as the supportive friends are good but sometimes the movie focuses a bit much on their family drama that gets in the way of the good stuff. Dyer as her sister has some nicely snarky moments and her exit is unforgettable. Doorman as the brother plays things vague as to what side he is on. As the abusive boyfriend Jackson–Cohen isn’t in the movie much but his scenes have impact and he feels like he can snap at any moment.
The Invisible Man is a great horror movie that does all the tricks one would expect from this type of movie but adds some unexpected twists and hits hard. By ditching the truly awful shared universe idea and making just a singular horror movie, it seems Universal’s Monsters are back on track. Even though you can’t see this Invisible Man you can’t look away. V
THE INVISIBLE MAN
Director: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Elisabeth Moss,
and Harriet Dyer