In theaters now!
THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)
Directed by Leigh Whannell
Written by Leigh Whannell (really? No credit for H.G. Wells for writing, huh?)
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman, Benedict Hardie, Renee Lim, Brian Meegan
Find out more about this film here!
Leigh Whannell delivers a powerful new iteration of THE INVISIBLE MAN in this 2020 remake, but shame on Universal for not crediting H.G. Wells for the original idea and James Whale for the original film. That said, this is a widely entertaining blockbuster of a film. I can understand why it is a crowd pleaser, as it delivers everything fans of mainstream horror want. It is far from a perfect film, and I’ll be sure to dive into that later. But all in all, I have to say I am proud of Whannell who seems to have come out from his INSIDIOUS/THE CONJURING filmmaking partner James Wan’s shadow with this film and good on him for doing that. On top of that, the film provides yet another stellar performance from star Elizabeth Moss. Let’s delve deep.
The film opens just as the trailer does (more on THAT later) with Elisabeth Moss’ Cecilia gathering her clothes and things in the middle of the night and sneaking out of her husband’s mansion. Before doing so, she conveniently walks through his lab to shut down the security system, allowing us a glimpse at some suspicious sci fi tech equipment that is obviously going to come into play later. After narrowly escaping, Cecilia goes into hiding with her sister’s friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), all of it set up by her police officer sister Emily (Harriet Dyer). But it turns out all of the hiding is for naught as Adrian Griffin (played by THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE’s Oliver Jackson-Cohen) seems to have killed himself after Cecilia left. He also left her a hefty payday in his will, according to his lawyer brother Tom (Michael Dorman). But just when Cecilia is starting to breath easy and thinks her abuser is gone, she starts seeing things that lead her to believe that her optics designer ex-husband has turned himself invisible and is attempting to drive her crazy.
The thematics of THE INVISIBLE MAN, though extremely different from the original Universal film, is a strong one. Just as Jack Griffin attempted to be noticed in the world of science and ironically made himself invisible to do so in the original James Whale classic, Cecilia is the invisible one as she has great difficulty in convincing anyone to notice and believe her when she attests that she has been abused and is still being abused by her husband. There are plenty of films that play on the hysterical woman trope. It’s a theme used in everything from ROSEMARY’S BABY to ALIENS to more recently THE LODGE and HEREDITARY. There is always a scene in horror films where a frantic woman pleads with someone to believe her and no one does, thinking she is just being crazy and hysterical. The fight for a woman to be heard, especially in this day and age, makes THE INVISIBLE MAN topical and I can see why a lot of people seem to be resonating with this theme.
Whannell exploits this to the fullest and puts Moss through the emotional wringer. Moss is as believable as the lunatic as she is the aggressor as the tides turn back and forth again in this twisted plot. I have to give it to Whannell who could have went the easy route with the obsession with fame (which was the main theme of the original for Griffin to be noticed), but instead he tackled a more topical story that allowed for some satisfying moments of female empowerment. That said, Whannell shies away from being preachy with the theme. Instead he just relies on the same format that has been used in horror for ages—that of the woman being abused until the point where she has had enough and fights back. See any horror film with a final girl for that old chestnut and while it isn’t as fresh a concept as Whannell and company want to sell it as, it still proves that horror is one of the most empowering genres out there today and always has been.
While a film like this will never be considered for an Oscar, Moss gives it her all here and carries this film capably from scene one until the end. Shifting focus from the Invisible Man himself to the woman who is not seen, even when she is reaching in all directions for help is a meaty role for Moss to chew on and gnaw on it she does. Just as Weaver and Hamilton did before her, you will believe Moss can kick major ass here.
That doesn’t mean that THE INVISIBLE MAN is a perfect film and I’d be doing a disservice not to point out a few of the more major flaws. The most glaring one is the tell-don’t-show story of Cecilia’s abuse. Had we not seen the trailers with Moss floating through the air fighting an unseen attacker and had this film been sold as a psychological horror story where we don’t know if Cecilia is just nuts, I think they could have played with the idea of whether the invisible man exists or not and make an extremely interesting movie. That’s not what they did. Cecilia talks of psychological abuse as well as physical abuse, but we never really see any of this happen. I understand we are living in an age where “the accuser is always right until proven otherwise,” and that might be a good rule to follow in the real world, but it’s simply bad storytelling to simply have people tell us how bad a person is and expect us believe it, especially given Cecilia’s questionable mental state. Even though the monster is obviously real, even up until the end, we are simply supposed to take Cecilia’s word for it that she was abused.
This leads to my second problem. We are never really shown if Cecilia and Adrian were ever happy or why the two got together in the first place. We are plopped into the first scene of Cecilia escaping and extremely fearful of Adrian, but we never see why she might have been attracted to him in the first place. Was Cecilia abused before and was somehow attracted to that type of person? Did Adrian change over the years? Did his optics work have some effect on his mental state as it did with Jack Griffin in the original? None of these questions are even attempted to be answered. We are only to know that we are not supposed to like Adrian because Cecilia tells us so. Sure, later events in the film make us believe it…or do they? The ambiguous way this one ends leaves a lot of questions unanswered, almost as many as the questions I had about what happens before the film begins.
I recommend you not think too hard about the story or the holes become rather obvious. I guess we are to believe Adrian is a sick fuck (because Cecilia tells us), but why go to the trouble to fake your own death, give her an inheritance, only to drive her insane so that the inheritance is taken away. It just…just… trust me. This is one of those big bombastic movies that you will have more fun with if you just don’t ask those types of questions.
Despite these plot holes and story stumbles, Whannell delivers a rather safe but suspenseful thriller. The effects are, of course, top notch. The inviso-suit is definitely scary and used in ways to make the heart jump and the spine tingle. The action scenes never let up and this film does have a satisfying forward momentum, leaving very little time for breaths to be taken. Plus Whannell knows how to set up some great scenes of tension. There’s a beat at the beginning that almost had me out of my seat. That is something only Wan and Whannell seem to be able to do to me. Still, this is a safe film where those who you think will die, most likely will. The abuse is only talked about, because I guess, seeing that on screen would make audiences feel too uncomfortable (as if feeling uncomfortable is something you have to watch out for in a horror film). The film wraps in a satisfying manner that seems to encapsulate the current trend of doing what’s right despite the fact that laws are broken. I can understand that. It’s a Universal monster movie, so it’s gotta be broad. But still, Whale got away with a heck of a lot more subtext and suggested atrocities in his monster films than the horrors this movie shows.
One last gripe and I’m out. Universal, have more faith in your films. Whoever did the trailers for this film should be clearing their desks out and turning in their keys. Stop giving away all of the best stuff in the trailers. There is a way to sell this film as the tense, psychological thriller that it is and then there are the trailers used to sell this film. When are the studios going to learn that giving away all of the effects shots, spoiling all of the beats and twists, and basically depicting a Cliff’s Notes version of the entire film is not a way to sell your movie? It is such a shame that so much time was put into making this movie and some shitty ad team comes in and butchers it because they are scared that no one will go see it without revealing all of the money shots. Almost every scene is in the trailers in some shortened fashion, and while there are a few surprises left to be seen, they aren’t enough. Scenes that would have knocked me back fell flat because I’d seen them thirty times over in the previews. Stop it. It’s stupid. It just shows your lack of faith in the product. I hope one day directors will stand up and take control of how their films are advertised. This ad campaign was utter shit.
Despite the criticisms, the trailer rant, and my fondness for the horrors of yesteryear, Whannell has delivered a strong remake in the great INVISIBLE MAN tradition. With thematic heft, phenomenal performances, and tip-top special effects, THE INVISIBLE MAN 2020 is a crowd pleaser and even though it is flawed, I had a big ol’ blast with it.