Universal Pictures has struggled in recent years with reintroducing their classic lineup of iconic movie monsters to the main stream in a way the audiences respond favorably to, but they have finally hit the bullseye with The Invisible Man, easily the studio’s scariest film in decades.
While I loved Joe Johnston’s 2010 The Wolfman, and enjoyed the 2014 prequel story Dracula Untold enough, the studio had big plans for a shared Dark Universe of its monsters that was to begin with the Tom Cruise-starring The Mummy in 2017, but that was all shut down after the action-filled, horror-light Mummy reboot failed to perform as anticipated at the box office. It’s all meant to be, however, as director Leigh Whannell (Upgrade, Insidious: Chapter 3) has now given us the first truly scary iteration of one of the classic monsters in recent memory.
While it bears pretty much no resemblance to the original 1933 film or its sequels, or the 1897 H.G. Wells novel it’s based on, beyond the antagonist’s same last name of “Griffin”, Whannell’s Invisible Man is a reimagined modern monster in every sense. In both the book and the original film, Griffin quickly gives in to his darkest, most criminal instincts after becoming invisible, but in this new version, this Griffin is a total asshole way before he becomes invisible.
Elisabeth Moss plays Cecilia Kass, who early on in the film escapes what seems like a prison but is in fact her ultra rich abusive boyfriend’s home. She’s seemingly free but can still not even walk from her friend’s house to the mailbox due the trauma she has experienced, and then she receives word that Griffin has apparently committed suicide. She knows this makes no sense for an egomaniac like Griffin, and soon enough she starts to get the distinct feeling that he is not dead but has figured out a way to make himself invisible.
Of course, no one believes her throughout most of the movie, a not so subtle reference to the all too many women who have accused powerful men of abuse but were not believed in real life. This unfortunate reality of today’s society places the film firmly in the year 2020 and grounds it in more believability than probably any other Universal monster movie ever.
My wife is a survivor of similar abuse in her prior marriage, and she remarked how more than one scene depicted in the film is almost word-for-word what she experienced when trying to tell her story to other people. I have no doubt that many women watching The Invisible Man will indentify with Cecilia’s fight to reveal the truth, as they know how an abusive narcissist’s mind works just as she does, and they’ve felt the betrayal of close friends and family even placing the blame on them because they simply can’t fathom that such a decent guy could be so evil.
“That’s what he does,” Ceciia says at one point, to which my wife responded, “Yep, that’s what they do.”
The metaphors are not hard to see, and the timeliness of this story cannot be overstated.
Oliver Jackson-Cohen is barely seen as the handsome optics genius Adrian Griffin and is fittingly hard to read when he does show his face, as Whannell essentially asks the audience the central question, echoed so often in the real word, of “Who do you believe?”
Whannell steps up the scare factor with his masterful use of psychological horror, using the invisibility of the villain to create panic and paranoia, for both Cecilia and the audience, in virtually every frame.
The film is tight, tense, and authentic, with numerous legit scares and a fully irredeemable monster of the most believable kind at its core.
Here’s hoping that The Invisible Man paves the way for a new era of monsters from the studio that launched the greatest names in horror.
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