Review: “The Invisible Man” (2020)

Does anyone remember when Universal tried to create its own cinematic universe? The Dark Universe was meant to be the next big thing similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe but utilizing Universal’s famous movie monsters. The studio tried twice to create this series, once with “Dracula Untold” and next with “The Mummy”. But poor box office and critical responses forced Universal to scrap the plan and instead they decided to reboot these monsters as individual properties. The first film in this collection is a modernized version of “The Invisible Man”. Directed by Leigh Whannell, the writer of “Saw”, “Insidious” and “Dead Silence” and the director of one of my favorite movies of the late 2010s “Upgrade”, this new version of “The Invisible Man” presents us with a tortured woman, played by Elizabeth Moss, who believes her abusive ex-boyfriend has found a way to be invisible and continue to ruin her life. Nobody believes her thus she must deal with the torture all on her own and get to the bottom of the mystery. Mixing thriller, sci-fi and horror elements similar to Whannell’s past work, the “The Invisible Man” makes a noble effort to avoid Universal’s past mistakes. Does it finally succeed in bringing one of the studio’s most famous monsters to the big screen for a new audience? Let’s find out. This is my review of “The Invisible Man”.

Screenshot Courtesy of Universal

“The Invisible Man” has long been one of my favorite monsters of cinema and literature. I loved the H.G. Wells book and enjoyed the older movies that were well before my time. I even kind of enjoyed the Kevin Bacon-led 2000 film “Hollow Man” which was based on the concept and in spite of its many flaws I thought the Invisible Man was the best character in “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. So, going into this new movie I was admittedly skeptical. Like many people with “The Mummy”, I was worried that Universal wouldn’t do justice to one of my favorite characters especially one that is among their most “human” monsters both literally and figuratively. While this isn’t an absolutely perfect movie, I was thankfully very wrong in my doubts. This new version of “The Invisible Man” takes the idea of an unseen antagonist and provides a new, inspired twist that successfully blends it with modern day themes and technology to give it a great thematic edge.

Screenshot Courtesy of Universal

I can’t exactly lay out every way that this movie manages to add thematic elements to its titular monster without spoiling some of the twists, but I’ll do my best. Director Leigh Whannell, who also wrote the film, gives the Invisible Man character a satisfying modern makeover. The story, which sees Elizabeth Moss’ Cecilia tortured by the memory and possible continued existence of her abuse ex Adrian despite him having supposedly committed suicide, touches on several modern issues without feeling overly preachy. On one hand it serves as a neat allegory about how in today’s society it feels near impossible to escape view meaning anyone, good or bad, tends to have a way to find you through social media, games of telephone or other means. On the other hand Moss’ character represents an innocent victim tortured by an abusive relationship and, because everyone thinks he abuser is out of the picture, nobody believes her story thus making the movie a representation of our society’s tendencies, both past and present, to see the victim as overreacting until the worst becomes a reality. In an era where the #MeToo movement and women being empowered to speak out against their abusers is a hot topic of conversation this movie is one of the few to date to brutally and honestly present the true consequences of a world where women feel even more victimized for being a victim.

Screenshot Courtesy of Universal

Helping drive home the latter theme is an electrifying performance by Elizabeth Moss who is the sole driving force of this film. Most of the action is centered on her and Adrian and because Adrian is invisible most of the movie Moss is usually left to control the moment herself. Moss is amazing in this film maintaining her character’s innocent and helpless perspective pretty much the whole way through until the narrative puts her in a situation where she either needs to act or give in to her torture. She never once, even when she does stand up for herself, feel truly unquestionably brave in how she carries herself which isn’t a bad thing. In a real-life scenario victims can put on a tough face and take a stand but that insecurity and fear is always there hiding in the depths of their mind. You can constantly see Cecilia fighting to overcome her fear every time she confronts both Adrian and her own sanity. It’s a fascinating performance built on a mix of subtlety and brutal honesty showing what it’s like for a woman to be in a tragic situation out of her control and feeling like there’s no way out in spite of the many people that are supposed to be there to help her. Moss has had numerous great performances so far in her career but this is up there as one of my favorites from her so far.

Screenshot Courtesy of Universal

Of course, I can’t not talk about the horror elements. “The Invisible Man” plays out kind of like a “Paranormal Activity” films meets “Upgrade” (seriously watch that movie) where one moment the camerawork is patient and unsettling and the next things ramp up and the energy is much more pulse-pounding. Despite these two very differing elements neither seem to clash but rather compliment each other. The musical score also helps drive home the discomfort this movie tries to evoke using loud, low tones that are naturally unsettling to the human ears. That’s not surprising seeing as Benjamin Wallfisch of “Blade Runner 2049” fame worked on the music. The best moments of horror though are when there is no music and we see Cecilia walking around the house as the camera lingers on nothingness, forcing you to look for any changes in the background. You know Adrian is there just biding his time. It made me so uncomfortable waiting to see if anything would happen but unlike a found footage movies there’s always something to appreciate even when it seems nothing is happening thanks to small moments with Cecilia. There are also some neat twists and graphic deaths that will certainly satisfy viewers’ blood lust, but honestly the premise alone is enough to terrify especially when you see how hopeless Adrian makes things for Cecilia. If I had to pick one thing that I really DIDN’T like about this movie though it would be the pacing as sometimes the film does feel like it drags a bit too long or rushes to get from point A to point B. It’s a small issue, and a sacrifice made to allow for its effective mix of styles, but it was a glaring issue near the middle section of the movie where I realized we hit an hour and it felt like the movie had been going on for much longer. The second half of the film does pick things up and move a lot faster and more seamlessly through the finale.

Screenshot Courtesy of Universal

After so many duds this year the horror genre needed a real quality product and “The Invisible Man” is just that, a fun mix of mainstream personality with art-house themes that provides the best of both worlds. It’s a fun, uncomfortable thrill ride with something important to say. Its pacing is a little skewed, but this is a small price to pay for all the great things it brings to the table. Fun camerawork helps make both the action and the more patient scenes blend well and be equally effective while the story itself touches on themes of privacy in a technological world and relationship abuse without feeling too pandering or in your face. Elizabeth Moss is the driving force of this movie providing one of her best performances to date while director Leigh Whannell proves once again he is a master of his craft skilled in merging genres into a great package. This is a very different take on “The Invisible Man” than H.G. Wells probably ever imagined, but if Universal’s goal now it to truly update its famous monsters for today’s world this is a promising step in the right direction that sets the standard pretty high for future products to meet.

GRADE:A five-star rating

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