Universal Pictures’ The Invisible Man is the kind of dark remake that should be the standard for any filmmaker taking a classic film and putting their own twist to it. The original 1933 film stayed true to the heavy sci-fi camp nature based on H.G Wells horror novel. Leigh Whannel doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, rather takes a beloved film and updates it for the contemporary audiences.
A Modern Monster
Gone is the mummified look of the horror, which was initially produced by the Universal Pictures. Instead, Whannel’s grim reimagining of the titular character sees him as a violent domestic abuser, hell-bent on ruining his girlfriend’s life even from beyond the grave. The 1933 film was revolutionary in its own right, bringing forth new visual effects. On the contrary, the 2020 remake is clever in how it abandons fantastic horror in favour of psychological horror, which is equally gripping and terrifying.
#TheInvisibleMan is now playing in theaters.
— The Invisible Man (@TheInvisibleMan) March 9, 2020
The story of the film is simple enough. The 2020 film sees Cecilia (The Handmaid’s Tale’s Elisabeth Moss) finally getting free of her abusive boyfriend, Adrien (The Haunting Of The Hill House’s Oliver Jackson-Cohen), only for him to return as an invisible man following his suicide. The film has key side characters such as Aldis Hodge playing Cee’s friend and Harriet Dyer playing her sister Emily. However, they are a mere foil for Moss who showcases her brilliant range, skillfully playing a woman being driven out of her mind with one overcoming her PTSD.
There is also a propensity of anger underneath Moss’s demeanour, with the people around her struggling to accept her version of events. The film doesn’t linger here though, as some lesser films might have. The Invisible Man is far more eager for Cecilia to take matters into her own hands. This makes the film’s pressure cooker build up all the more riveting.
Director Leigh Whannel, who singlehandedly penned the script for the film, makes The Invisible Man more than a standard horror movie by taking inspiration from the post-MeToo world. His smart storytelling manages to make what could have been a ludicrous movie of a woman seemingly fighting air feel like a spine-tingling thriller. The movie works on multiple levels.
Furthermore, Whannel is successful in sowing a seed of doubt early on in the film. This makes you question if this woman is actually being haunted by a demon from her past, or if she’s just a victim of her own mind. Although he’s clever enough to not go with the lesser of the two options, he does let your imagination fill in the blanks throughout the film. That works wonderfully because Moss’s strength has always been in the emotive facial expressions that allow her to simultaneously exhibit strength and vulnerability.
There’s not a lot of exposition and very little done towards developing supporting characters. The reason being, the focus on Cecilia alone. Throughout the film, the greatest monster is the abuse that’s never shown but hangs in the air at all times. By being character-focused, we are able to feel the palpable tension that seems to be suffocating our protagonist long before the appearance of the Invisible Man.
Elisabeth Moss earns nothing but praise from her crew and co-stars.
— The Invisible Man (@TheInvisibleMan) April 22, 2020
In addition to making a simplistic story that levels the original book, Whannel’s movie touches on a host of women’s issues without being too on the nose. It’s refreshing to see a horror movie that strays from the usual jump scares (though it throws in a few for good measure), gore and bloodshed. Instead, the film almost feels like a self-aware version of a Hitchcock film, diving deep into the kinds of problems that plague domestic abuse survivors from gaslighting to trauma.
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All in all, The Invisible Man is the kind of excellent storytelling that has allowed the elevation of the horror genre in the recent few years. Following up on 2018’s excellent Upgrade director Leigh Wannel establishes himself as one of the brightest writer-directors currently working in Hollywood. With Invisible Man, he levels up, delivering a sophisticated and dark retelling of a supernatural story that feels painfully human and all too real.