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The Invisible Man
★★★☆☆
First run Screening room

Leigh Whannell (creator of the Saw and Insidious series) follows up his directorial début Upgrade (2018) with this inventive remake of the H.G. Wells classic (and the Universal horror flick) The Invisible Man. In this telling, the protagonist is not the invisible man himself but the girlfriend he’s been psychologically and physically abusing throughout their relationship. The film starts out with Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) sneaking out of the heavily guarded, high-tech beach house she shares with her violent, narcissistic boyfriend Adrian Griffin, a wealthy engineer and businessman clearly meant to evoke dudes like Elon Musk. She flees with her sister (Harriet Dyer) to the home of her best bud (Aldis Hodge) who happens to be a cop with a young daughter (Storm Reid). But soon, rather than having a manipulative boyfriend, she’s got a power-mad stalker going after her and those she loves. And since his skills happen to be in the field of optics, Adrian is able to take his gaslighting of Cecilia to new levels of cruelty. He sets out to destroy her life to the point where she’ll have no choice but to return to him.

The conceit of turning this classic tale of scientific hubris into a high-tech woman-in-jeopardy thriller is clever and timely. Genre audiences have been aching for horror movies told from fresh, underrepresented perspectives. What better kind of remake is there than one that not only updates an old story but uses it to explore entirely different issues and themes. The screenplay doesn’t deliver any real surprises and the direction embraces the B-movie tropes we might expect to see from a film with this title and this premise, but that’s the point. This new take on The Invisible Man gives viewers exactly what we expect (and want)—no more, no less. But what makes the movie special is its lead performance. I’ve long ago tired of watching lengthy close-ups of Elisabeth Moss’s face as her various characters experience every sort of pain, anxiety, and fear that screenwriters and directors can throw at her, but she transcends all that baggage here to deliver a raw, deeply sympathetic turn. She’s able to both sell the special effects and embody in the all-too-real emotions of women tormented and driven crazy by toxic men every day. 

The unadorned Moss looks so utterly average in this picture it makes the fanciful premise seem utterly realistic. In every aspect of her appearance, from the way she dresses to the way she carries herself in each situation, she projects such authenticity that the movie doesn’t even seem to require any suspension of disbelief. Despite the stylish direction, booming score, and Blum-house aesthetics, much of this Invisible Man doesn’t even feel like a sci-fi or horror movie.

Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are not as developed or brilliantly executed, especially The Invisible Man himself. It would probably be impossible to do this film without eventually seeing Adrian. But when we do, the English actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen isn’t up to the task of actually embodying the character we’ve been developing in our minds as we’ve watched his invisible actions and learned his backstory over the course of the film. The narrative builds to the expected climax, which is satisfying enough, but it’s also the picture’s weakest section.

Twitter Capsule:
Moss and director Leigh Whannell deliver smart, effective scares by transforming the classic Wells tale / Universal horror flick into an above-average high-tech woman-in-jeopardy thriller.

Directed by Leigh Whannell
Produced by Jason Blum and Kylie Du Fresne

Screen Story and Screenplay by Leigh Whannell
Based on the novel by H.G. Wells

With: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, and Michael Dorman

Cinematography: Stefan Duscio
Editing: Andy Canny
Music: Benjamin Wallfisch

Runtime: 124 min
Release Date: 28 February 2020
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color