Courtesy of Universal
I’m a firm believer that what we can’t see is far more terrifying than what we can see. Steven Spielberg tapped into this fear by not showing audiences the shark in “Jaws,” just close-ups and the camera from the point of view of the creature. It’s an old fashioned technique that isn’t utilized much these days, instead studios are quick to show their ace before a hand is even dealt, but Leigh Whannell - the brainchild behind the new modern day remake of “The Invisible Man” - certainly embraces the less is more approach and because of it, “The Invisible Man” is absolutely terrifying.
Long gone is the ill-fated “Dark Universe,” which was Universal desperately trying to intermingle their cinematic canon of ghouls, vampires, and werewolves for a cinematic universe of characters to compete with the likes of Marvel. If you remember, Tom Cruises’ “The Mummy” was the first to bat and struck out quickly with a dismal commercial and critical showing. On the docket for the “Dark Universe '' at some point was “The Invisible Man” but alas, after the DU went into limbo, it’s fate remained uncertain. So when you hear the co-creator of the “Saw” and “Insidious” franchise is helming the low-budget remake from Blumhouse, it would be understandable to have some pause. Rest assured, Whannell has found a way to recontextualize the modern monster movie in a way that feels perfectly timed with the #MeToo movement and seems alive like no horror remake has in years.
In fact, Whannell’s fresh approach to the material presents a timely and topical look at this generation's most notable monster: the abusive and toxic male. The filmmaker does pay some minor homages to the original 1897 H.G. Wells novel and the 1933 Claude Rains movie, but he mainly steers his own path, coming up with clever plot devices built on Hitchcockian levels of suspense, centered on a woman’s abusive relationship and her quest for independence.
The film opens with a harrowing opening sequence where Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) - a once promising San Francisco architect - is trying to leave her boyfriend for reasons we don’t fully understand. Whannell’s script doesn’t give us all the answers right away, but he leaves hints and clues as to why she might want to leave. After all who wakes up at 3:30 in the morning to stage a getaway?
We’re told later on that her sociopathic boyfriend Adrian (Olivier Jackson-Cohen) controlled every aspect of her life: what she eats, wears, and even her own thoughts. While she escapes from her old flame physically; mentally she’s in a constant state of worry and anguish that he’s going to track her down while shacking up with a childhood pal (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter (Storm Reid).
Soon after it’s revealed Adrian has commited suicide and has left $5 million to her on the contingency she doesn’t commit a crime or is ruled mentally incompetent, things, naturally, start to go bump in the night. Already suspicious that Adrian would take his own life, Cecilia starts to feel a presence looming in the shadows, insisting to others that Adrian has found a way to become invisible. To reveal anymore plot mechanics would be a terrible disservice.
Sure there are a heaping of special effects used in the films penultimate action sequences and they’re a bit hooky. Watching someone get thrown away by air is awkwardly hilarious, and it’s not nearly as strong as the camera lingering in the distance, making the audience ponder where this invisible fella is hiding, and Whannell knows exactly the right moments to throw us a jump scare (one of which is the stuff all great nightmares are made of). However, “The Invisible Man” wouldn’t work if not for Moss being so dedicated to fulfilling her arch. It’s enthralling to watch her character grow from unstable nut to an instinctive hunter hellbent on defending herself.
Thanks to the likes of “Get Out,” “Midsommar,” and “Us” - the horror genre is seeing a resurgence in becoming something other than cheap gimmicks. Granted, 2020 has been chock full of mediocre horror thanks to “The Turning,” “The Grudge,” and the dull “Fantasy Island” - but when horror is put in the hands of a filmmaker with a distinct vision (see the most recent example: “The Lodge”) the sky's the limit. Whannell leaves the door wide open for interpretation and the metaphor on breaking free from your captor is highly potent. We’ve come a long way from the era of wrapping actors up in gauze, or Kevin Bacon digitized in “Hollow Man” (which is actually a pretty good flick) - “The Invisible Man” is a welcome addition to the horror remake canon, and a refreshing reminder that seeing is believing.