Review: 'The Invisible Man' is a Must-See Modern Psychological Thriller
by Adam Frazier
February 28, 2020
Actor and screenwriter Leigh Whannell and director James Wan changed the horror landscape when their low-budget sleeper hit Saw became a cultural phenomenon in 2004. After the massive success of their feature debut, the Australian filmmaking duo continued to collaborate on a series of horror films, including Dead Silence (2007), Insidious (2010), and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013). In 2015, while Wan was behind the wheel of Furious 7, Whannell made his directorial debut with Insidious: Chapter 3, which he also wrote. His next feature, the kinetic cyberpunk sci-fi actioner Upgrade, ended up as my favorite movie of 2018. Now, the talented writer / filmmaker tackles his biggest project yet with a modern retelling of The Invisible Man, inspired originally by H.G. Wells' 1897 novel and James Whale's classic 1933 film of the same name.
Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid's Tale, Her Smell, Us) stars as Cecilia Kass, an architect in San Francisco trapped in an abusive relationship with her violent and controlling wealthy boyfriend, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen of Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House). After escaping the manipulative scientist and optics pioneer with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer), Cecilia goes into hiding, staying with James Lanier (Aldis Hodge of Straight Outta Compton, Hidden Figures), a childhood friend and San Francisco police officer who's raising his teenage daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid, HBO's Euphoria), by himself. When her ex commits suicide, Cecilia suspects he isn't actually dead but has somehow made himself invisible, using his latest innovation to torture her.
The Invisible Man is part of the Universal Classic Monsters family — which also includes Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster, The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. These beloved characters are timeless because they represent our cultural fears & anxieties; they're adaptable, changing with the times. While H.G. Wells' story was about a scientist who becomes a madman, Whannell is more interested in the object of the villain's obsession. A strong, capable woman, Cecilia's life is upended by her toxic relationship with Adrian. After his "death," things only get worse. As the prey of an unseen abuser, Cecilia becomes increasingly paranoid and her life begins to unravel. Friends and family see her as hysterical or unwell, insisting that it's all in her head. It's a timely narrative about women being victimized by men — enduring physical, emotional, and psychological torment and not being believed.
Whannell builds a sophisticated psychological thriller on the foundation of these fears & anxieties, weaving them throughout thematically. The Invisible Man is a bold, fresh take on the iconic character: an innovative, filmmaker-driven approach that recontextualizes a classic story and makes it relevant again for modern audiences. Technically speaking, the unique visual langue Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio created for Upgrade has been pushed even further, with the slick, motion-controlled camera movements serving as the manifestation of Adrian's presence. A relentless tension is created — there's a sense of unease in every frame. To capture Cecilia's paranoia, the camera often breaks from its locked, precise movements to linger on empty corners and ordinary spaces, suggesting that she's never really alone or truly safe. Your eyes are constantly searching the edges of the frame for any hint of the predator's presence.
In addition to the film's sleek, modern production design (by Alex Holmes), the perfect marriage of in-camera practical and visual effects (SFX supervisor Dan Oliver, VFX supervisor Jonathan Dearing), nerve-jangling sound design (sound mixer Will Files, sound designer P.K. Hooker), and a haunting score by composer Benjamin Wallfisch, The Invisible Man has an incredible performance at its core. Two-time Golden Globe winner Elisabeth Moss is on another level here, delivering what might be her best work to date. Embodying fear, grief, madness, rage — showing strength and vulnerability at the same time — Moss creates an empathetic, relatable heroine that grounds the movie's premise in reality.
A tense and suspenseful horror thriller, The Invisible Man is filled with spine-tingling moments and gasp-worthy twists and turns. It's scary, stylish, and of substance — it's about more than just brand recognition. It's the template for whatever Universal Monster reboots might follow from here on out. Whannell continues to grow as a filmmaker and further his craft — much like Mike Flanagan, Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, or Oz Perkins, when I see his name attached to a film I get excited, because I know it's coming from a place of genuine love for the genre and an eagerness to do something that's not only entertaining but emotionally and intellectually engaging. You may not exactly be able to see The Invisible Man, but Whannell's passion for storytelling and filmmaking is evident in every frame.
P.S.: If possible, go see The Invisible Man with Dolby Atmos — it's an immersive cinematic experience where sounds move all around you in three-dimensional space, so you feel like you're inside the movie.
Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
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