THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)
R, 110 mins.
2020, R, 110 mins.
Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Adrian Griffin / The Invisible Man / Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass / Storm Reid as Sydney / Aldis Hodge as James / Harriet Dyer as Alice / Michael Dorman as Tom
Written and directed by Leigh Whannell
have been countless films over the years that have been made about
unstoppable monsters that stalk their unsuspecting and vulnerable prey,
but there's something more unspeakably creepy and horrifying about trying
to defend oneself against a silent foe that can't been seen...or...worse
yet...that no one around you believes exists.
something that the makers of the new iteration of THE INVISIBLE MAN keenly
This remake, of course, is the umpteenth version of this premise
that dates as far back as the original Universal horror film series of
Hollywood's Golden Age, which, in turn, was adapted from the H.G. Welles'
sci-fi novel of the same name.
I wasn't expecting all too much from this film, seeing as I felt
that the core concept has literally been done to death by Hollywood.
However, THE INVISIBLE MAN is surprisingly and undeniably the first
truly masterful film of 2020: Not only is it a bone chillingly unnerving
psychological horror thriller, but it also compellingly works on so many
layered thematic levels as a nightmare inducing commentary on domestic
woman in question is an up-and-coming architect named Cecilia (Elizabeth
Moss, one of our most underrated performers), who's in a horribly abusive
relationship with her monstrously control freak of a boyfriend in Adrian
Griffin (Oliver Jackson Cohen). He just so happens to be a brilliant
scientist working in the field of optics. As
THE INVISIBLE MAN opens we witness Cecilia engage in a nocturnal mission
to free herself from this miserable lout by drugging him in his sleep,
gathering up everything she needs, and then proceeding to tip-toe around
his ocean-view home to ensure her escape and emancipation.
Australian director Leigh Whannell (helmer of the terribly little
seen, but quite solid UPGRADE) makes this
opening fifteen minutes one for the ages for just how much dread inducing
anxiety he conjures up during Cecilia's daring break-out.
And he does so with impeccable usage of silence, security camera
footage, uncomfortably long panning shots, the undulating sounds of ocean
waves crashing outside, and a deeply unsettling notion that just one tiny
bit of noise made by Celilia will wake up this sociopath and spell doom.
This is one of the most effectively staged and scary opening scenes
in recent memory, and sets the bar high for what's to come.
does manage to secure her freedom and finds a place of solace at the home
of her police officer friend in James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter
Cecilia also has her lawyer sister to comfort her in Emily (Harriet
Dyer), but despite having a supporting friend/family safety net to calm
her down and bring her back down to a place of normalcy, Cecilia is
nevertheless petrified to journey outdoors in fear that Adrian will find
and kill her.
Fate steps in when it's revealed that Adrian has committed suicide
and has left Cecilia with a rather large inheritance (payable if she
remains criminal record free and with a clean bill of mental health),
leaving Emily and James confident that the worst is finally behind her.
Cecilia, on the other hand, is not so sure.
When strange, almost supernatural occurrences begin happening to
her, she grows convinced that (a) Adrian is indeed alive and faked his
death and (b) that he used his vast understanding of
optics and scientific ingenuity to make himself completely invisible,
allowing for his continued tormenting of her to go on indefinitely.
As her emotional health begins to unravel she very quickly learns
that no one - not even James or Emily - will believe her seemingly
cockamamie story without some proof.
THE INVISIBLE MAN isn't wall-to-wall with VFX in portraying its villain's
continued malicious attack on poor Cecilia.
With a remarkably conservative $7 million budget, Whannell fully
commits himself to finding novel ways to terrify filmgoers using a
thanklessly cost effective approach (compared to Universal's last failed
attempt at rebooting a classic monster franchise in 2017's THE
MUMMY, star Tom Cruise's salary in that forgettable disaster was
twice that of the budget here).
Yes, THE INVISIBLE MAN has effects shots and, yes, there's ample
violence and gore to be had here (featuring what has to be one of the most
shocking on-screen deaths in a long time), but Whannell isn't interested
in sensationalistic eye candy or cheap horror film parlor tricks. He's
more interested in going the minimal, JAWS-inspired route of making his
monster more terrifying because of the implied menace and danger that he
of course we don't literally
see the antagonist because he's invisible, but that allows Whannell to
conjure up scene after scene that keeps things economical and, as a
result, unnerving as hell.
Some of the scariest moments of the film simply show the
increasingly paranoid Cecilia slowing looking throughout a room for any
signs of movement.
It's traumatizing to watch because she's not only alone in these
scenes, but also because Adrian may or may not be there drumming up
unspeakably dreadful things to do to her while is his camouflaged state.
Whannell gets a lot of mileage out of sinister score by Benjamin
Wallfisch, which fiendishly knows when to punctuate scenes for maximum
shock factor and when to stay idle to let the performances and direction
do the heavy lifting.
Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio do some interesting
things with the camera here as well.
There are times when their camera remains still and without
movement, pitch perfectly capturing the dismay that Cecilia is going
Other times, the camera seems to casually and slowly glide away
from her and rests on empty space, where it stays for what seems like an
The point here is simple: Whannell wants us to share the
obsessively mistrustful edge of its battle fatigued heroine.
We stare into these vacant spaces wondering...if anything is
actually there that will launch a viscous clandestine attack.
THE INVISIBLE MAN becomes almost excruciating to experience at
times as a result.
is also the emotional glue that holds this enterprise together as well.
She's developed a reputation at this stage in her career for
bravely playing characters that go through unspeakable mental and physical
hardships (see TV's THE HANDMAID'S TALE), and her tour de force and Oscar
nomination worthy performance is no exception.
She has to plausibly play wounded victim that slowly sees her own
sanity eroded while simultaneously evoking a desperately empowered raw
force that will stop at nothing to put an end to her sadistic ex and prove
to everyone around her that she's not nuttier than a fruitcake.
And Cecilia is absolutely damaged goods here, but she doesn't
devolve into damsel in distress troupes.
But the odds are really stacked up against her.
She has to wage a solo war on an enemy that has unfathomable wealth
and ridiculously powerful tech at his disposal, and one that everyone
outside of her thinks is six feet under.
And ultimately, that's what separates THE INVISIBLE MAN well apart from the litany of other witless, uninspired, and forgettable re-imaginings of classic properties. Truth be told, not all of the screenplay machinations remain airtight to logic here (and probably less so after repeat viewings), but I never found that these indiscretions distracted from the whole package. Almost none of the previous INVISIBLE MEN-centric films have been made with this one's level of timely commentary, ghoulish innovation, and viscerally shocking Hitchcockian mind games. THE INVISIBLE MAN stays true to the basic conceits of this ageless premise, but twists and turns it into something more memorably appalling for contemporary eyes. Whannell's remake works sensationally well as a classic fright fest, to be sure, but there's so much more going on under the hood of it, like the socially relevant reminder of the living hells that victimized women go through while trying to convince everyone around them to listen to and believe their claims of abuse via torturous assailant. I went into this film expecting another disposable jump scare fest on autopilot, but instead got a disturbingly topical tale that infuses toxic masculinity into this classic monster flick. And what's scarier than a mad stalker that's capable of cloaking himself from everyone wanting to violently have his way with a woman? It's the ultimate high concept David versus Goliath #MeToo nightmare scenario.