If you thought the Universal Monsters were finished after the “Dark Universe” roundly failed, look again. Under the eye of low-budget movie producer Jason Blum and his frequent collaborator director Leigh Whannell, The Invisible Man has been completely reinvented in a way that feels fresh, contemporary, relevant and at times very scary.
Focusing not on the character of the invisible man but his victim, this is a story about domestic abuse and the horror of not being believed. Elisabeth Moss plays Cecilia, married to the increasingly controlling sociopath Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). In a nerve-shredding opener that immediately sets the pace, a terrified Cecilia must escape the prison-like complex where they live, as silently as possible so as not to wake her sleeping husband. As a picture of the trauma and terror of a coercive relationship, it’s a perfect set up, which also quickly and efficiently establishes how much of a monster Adrian truly is. As a character, he is literally and figuratively invisible for almost the entire film but his menace is pervasive from the very start.
Two weeks later and Adrian is found dead in his apartment having apparently taken his own life. Cecilia is suffering from PTSD and barely able to leave the house she’s crashing in, where her cop friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney live (Storm Reid). But when she’s contacted by Adrian’s brother Tom (Michael Dorman), a lawyer acting as executor to Adrian’s will, Cecilia is dragged out to face the world. And it’s quickly apparent that Adrian is very much still in control.
The concept of an invisible attacker is something of a gift in a horror movie, and Whannell doesn’t let it go to waste. Invisible Adrian could be in the room at any time, and because of that, to Cecilia (and the audience) it’s like he’s in the room all the time. Cute effects – indents in a chair, feet standing on a sheet, Adrian’s outline painted briefly by raindrops – all work well, even if they’re not always strictly speaking logical. The real ace up The Invisible Man’s invisible sleeve is its ability to deliver shock scares, as opposed to jump scares – horrifying moments that come completely out of nowhere. One central scene is certain to elicit gasps from even the most jaded of horror fans.
On a more emotional level, Adrian’s hacking away at Cecelia’s support group is equally effective, to the point that she feels completely alone and we feel her pain. With a lesser performer at the helm, the part of Cecilia could have easily descended into histrionics, but in Moss’ careful hands, she’s believable and sympathetic as a woman being utterly tortured by her ex.
With Upgrade, Whannell proved he’s a deft hand at action set pieces. In some ways, The Invisible Man stands as a sort of companion piece to that movie—both with an element of tech paranoia and both involving actors performing fight sequences in which they aren’t in control of their own bodies. A stand out sequence featuring invisible Adrian and a whole host of supporting cast is thrilling and completely convincing in a way that may have you wondering how they even did that.
Like Upgrade, The Invisible Man has a certain B-movie feel—there’s no danger of this being branded “elevated horror”—but for pure genre thrills with a very coherent and relevant central story, it’s an absolute success. In the final act, the narrative goes a plot twist too far, and the very end of the film is pure fantasy wish fulfillment but rather than spoiling the movie it’s a fitting end that could even lend itself to a sequel.
For an update of a Universal Monster, re-written as a villain who is universally recognizable, this is original, chilling and effective stuff. This Invisible Man is well worth seeing.
The Invisible Man is out in theaters now.