Warning: There will be brief discussions of abuse and suicide in this piece.
After escaping her abusive boyfriend, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) hides with her friends before she learns her ex, tech-genius Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) committed suicide. Set to inherit a large amount of money as long as she isn’t ruled mentally incompetent, Cecilia tries to heal from her experiences, only to find Adrian’s manipulative presence seems to linger . . .
After taking massive financial losses, Universal Pictures realized it was time to return to its roots. Instead of aping the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the company partnered with horror-pioneer Blumhouse Productions, scaled the budget from hundreds of millions back to $7 million and decided to focus on making satisfying standalone stories that were foremost horror films rather than cinematic universe-launching blunders. In this race to reclaim its former glory, the starting shot would be fired by Leigh Whannell, co-creator of the “Saw” and “Insidious” series and director of 2018’s criminally underrated sci-fi-action-body horror “Upgrade.”
One of my favorite class monsters plus a director I’ve been wanting to see more of? What a killer combination! One that pays off for everyone involved.
“The Invisible Man” has not only reignited my love for the old Universal horrors of old, but it’s an incredibly well done psychological thriller that takes the original premise and infuses it with one of the most disturbing fears many have in the modern day — the gaslighting emotional abuser.
The lynchpin of it all is Elisabeth Moss, who is enthralling here. While the supporting cast does not slack at all, she is the emotional core of the movie and has to carry it on her shoulders. Much like Atlas carrying the world, it is no small hurdle, one she vaults with gusto. She draws the audience in as a recovering survivor who struggles to move past her trauma and must deal with the worst kind of situation a vulnerable woman can face, turned up to 11. When she encounters the Invisible Man, she really does look she’s struggling with an invisible man. A pretty strong one, too.
The supporting cast is also pretty solid, with Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid providing both drama levity as a cop and his daughter who shelters Cecilia after her escape, with Harriet Dyer is also entertaining as Emily, Cecilia’s no-nonsense and hesitant sister, who provides the story with further emotional heft.
Of course, this cast is guided by the hand of Leigh Whannell, who is just as superb here as he was last time. In the first half especially, he gets a lot of mileage out of slow pans and simply holding on a certain point in the room, planting the idea that the titular antagonist really could be anywhere onscreen. While I still love the original movie, my eyes were constantly scouring the screen for any trace of movement or trick of the light.
His cinematography is also gorgeous. Shots are held just long enough and there’s some really pleasant use of lighting and colors, with soft yellows and reds against harsh blues and low-lit environments. In some especially dour moments, the visuals can be delightfully frigid to look at. Despite costing $7 million to make, the movie looks more like it took around $50-60 milion.
Then there’s the handling of the titular monster. Yeah, it’s called “The Invisible Man,” so that’s no spoiler. Through a mix of precise wirework and movements from the actors, this version of the Invisible Man has a presence like no other. This version uses his advantage to break in wherever he wants and gaslight Cecilia, starting with small things before escalating to full-on violent assault. The design they chose to go with is also pretty striking when it’s revealed, and I’ll leave it unspoiled for those of you who want to see it for yourselves.
For those more sensitive to depictions of abuse, I might have to recommend you give this a pass. The movie really makes no bones about the topic it deals with and the way the antagonist attempts to gaslight and isolate Cecilia feels disturbingly plausible, even for a transparent fiend. Also, there is a brief photo of a character after they commit suicide.
As for criticisms, it mostly comes down to dumb horror cliches. One character in a particularly intense sequence acts supremely dumb and the same scenario involving multiple characters would become kind of slapstick if it weren’t for the fact that it was still really well done. The cops are also kind of dumb in this one. Another nitpick is one character seems to get to another location via an Uber driver the Invisible Man could have easily disabled at one point, but doesn’t for some reason? Again, it’s mostly little stuff that could probably be explained away with “Oh, what about this,” “that’s how you would react to this situation in a panic,” etc.
Not only is “The Invisible Man” an absolute spine-tingler, but it’s also a new horror classic and an end to mediocre horror films that accompany the early stages of the year. If Universal fully recognizes just what they have, the horror genre itself may be at a bend in the river that could lead to a spring of fresh takes on classic monsters.
Final rating: 4.25/5
Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh