Invisibility is a helluva thing, especially when you use it for evil!
A contemporary update to the H.G. Wells novel of the same name, The Invisible Man jumps right into the action as our protagonist, Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss), narrowly escapes her cruel and controlling partner, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), only to find out that he has committed suicide shortly afterwards. Unexpectedly and inexplicably, Adrian, a well-regarded and successful optic scientist, leaves Cecilia a large sum of money in his will on the way out, seemingly with no strings attached. Soon enough, and with the PTSD of her abusive relationship still dragging her in and out of anxiety induced panic as well as giving her crippling indecision about how she can move on and live her life on her own terms, Cecilia feels as if she is being stalked by something, or someone that wants her dead, or at the very least, deemed insane and broken beyond repair. But is this invisible person Adrian come back from the grave to drag Cecilia back into the dark, or is it all in her increasingly fractured mind? Either way, when you can’t see the danger coming, you have nowhere left to hide.
Completely separate from the seemingly now defunct Dark Universe series of interconnected films that Universal Studios planned before The Mummy reboot failed to gain much interest, this new version of The Invisible Man relishes in presenting its own unique spin on the classic story, unshackled by any larger overarching plan other than it’s own deliberate and careful design. Writer/director and at this point horror film veteran, Leigh Whannell, is not only able to update this story for today’s audiences, but cleverly and stylishly gives us a film that is more psychological thriller than straight up horror flick, a decision that does wonders to give us something unique and downright entertaining by the time the credits rolls
Bolstered by an authentic and disturbed performance by Elizabeth Moss as well as a solid showing by the minimal supporting cast in her close friend, James (Aldis Hodge), and his teenaged daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid), The Invisible Man is able to bring a sense of tension and uncertainty to the proceedings, but also a grounding human element that feels natural given the circumstances as well. It’s not hard to sympathize with Cecilia given her abusive relationship with Adrian, so adding some caring supporting characters that are (initially) on Cecilia’s side through her rough times helps move the story forward while also giving her some sort of anchor to hold on to before everything falls apart. It’s a smart decision that keeps the cast minimal but effective throughout, and I appreciated the extra layer of character work.
Whannell’s eye for crafting thrilling scenes that effectively and brutally show just how vicious an invisible entity laying the smack down on an unsuspecting victim can be are clearly the strongest elements of this film, even if said scenes feel a lot more entertaining and successful once the midway point of the story hits. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the way the first half of the film plays out, but my gripes start and end here and slightly lowered my overall enjoyment of the experience.
For the most part, my issues stem from the fact that we don’t know much about Adrian before he commits suicide even though he’s a driving force that is felt from the first shot. While this isn’t that much of an issue in the grand scheme of things, the unintended consequence of this is that the early scenes of Cecilia being tormented by the invisible entity fall a bit flat mostly because her ramblings of Adrian stalking her hold no water when we know so little about him and his capabilities. Her first reaction to the odd happening are immediately chalked up to her jumping to the conclusion that whatever is after her has to be Adrian, he had to have found a way to fake his own death and – most oddly – had to have somehow found a way to turn invisible. Look, I get that she’s been abused and is constantly scared of her life after Adrian is gone (which is a completely valid feeling), but for the early scares and overall logic of the film to have no real solid reason for her to be thinking these things at first, it comes across as a little forced.
More so than I expected, The Invisible Man successfully brings the tension of an unseen stalker to life with clever thrills and inventive cinematography that truly showcases how terrifying it can be to not only be constantly tortured by something you cannot see, but also disbelieved by the very people you hold so close. While the first half of the film feels a little forced and unstructured in regards to some of the scares and tension as well as some understandably “meh” computer graphics throughout (the budget was a scant $7 million), the entertaining and smart second half more than makes up for it with some truly interesting direction that hammers home the pure insanity that our protagonist is going through as well as the inherent fear of the invisible unknown. I don’t think this film needs a sequel and I can’t quit tell if it even sets one up, but if we end up getting another a few years down the line, I don’t think I’d be mad about it.