I love Universal’s new version of The Invisible Man, arriving on Blu-ray this week, and writer/director Leigh Whannell’s entertaining commentary reveals even more about this bold and poignant reimagining of the iconic horror figure.
That’s right, everybody, there’s an actual full feature length director’s commentary track included, a bonus feature that seemed to be almost standard a few years ago, but has been largely excluded from too many recent releases, and Whannell unveils some interesting details, along with all kinds of film geek info on how the movie was made and where specific ideas came from. You can check out my full review of the film itself here, and then read on for a deep dive into the Blu-ray release. (Spoilers ahead.)
First up, probably the biggest takeaway from my second watch (this was actually the first and, so far, only movie I saw in a theater in 2020, back in February) and listening to Whannell’s commentary is that The Invisible Man would not have succeeded on any level without the amazing talents of Elisabeth Moss, in her Oscar-worthy performance as the tormented Cecilia Kass. She is brilliant in the film, and Whannell is not wrong when he says she carries the whole thing on her shoulders. “Everything she (Cecilia) is thinking is right there in her eyes,” says Whannell, and he’s right.
Early on in the audio commentary, Whannell talks about how he wanted to “weaponize” modern audience’s knowledge of horror movie tropes whenever possible by not necessarily giving them what they’re expecting when they are expecting it.
He also discusses establishing the “language” of the movie, in which the camera knows more than the characters, sometimes moving away from them at unexpected, seemingly random times, with lots of “shots of nothing”, where of course the audience will inevitably “see” the Invisible Man. whether he’s actually there or not, further aligning them with Cecilia. “That’s what makes the Invisible Man suspenseful,” he says.
Another aspect unique to the Invisible Man is that he doesn’t need to hide, because he’s already hidden, to which Whannell explains, “I wanted to turn the lights on. The Invisible Man does not need darkness to hide in.”
He says he wanted the invisibility suit to be striking and unforgettable, yet menacing and, most importantly, iconic. And he wanted it to to work in a way that is grounded in reality, as Whannell goes so far as to explain how the suit would operate. Essentially, there are small cameras in each of the holes on the suit, which take thousands of photos per second and shoot holograms, which eradicates the presence of somebody. He said they even consulted real scientists, who confirmed that it theoretically could work. He wanted Adrian’s lab to be not like science fiction, but instead “less fiction, more science”.
While Universal’s most recent movie iterations of their classic horror characters, Dracula Untold and The Mummy, embraced an un-horror-like superhero template, Whannell says he specifically did not want the psychiatric hospital, or anything in the film for that matter, to look like it typically would in a comic book movie. He wanted it all to be “lived in.”
The writer and director also confides that was quite nervous about how much of the film is made up simply of characters talking to one another, and how nervous he was at times “shooting nothing” or “following” the Invisible Man, wondering how audiences would respond. “I was biting my nails on set,” he says. “It’s nerve-racking. You start doubting yourself… But the fun part of filmmaking should be taking the risks. So my policy is if it’s making you nervous, you’re on the right track.” He later added that having so much talking in a major studio film “does put the fear of God in you.”
In discussing his willingness to listen to and go with whatever suggestions his actors tended to have regarding what their characters would or wouldn’t do, Whannell says they were able to elevate his writing as a result.
He later imparts a simple but profound truth that applies to all artists, stating, “You’ll end up love some of the things you thought you would hate.”
A nod to Whannell’s breakthrough film as a writer, there is a Saw Easter egg when a graffiti drawing of Jigsaw’s Billy puppet is seen briefly on a wall outside after Cecilia escapes the psychiatric facility.
And if there was any doubt in your mind whether Adrian was the one in the suit stalking Cecilia, Whannell states definitively that Tom only wore it one time and it was otherwise always Adrian. There were originally more clues as to what Adrian was up to, like Cecilia finding more than just his phone, but also food and some of her own clothes neatly folded, including some of her underwear, in the attic.
The cover of the Blu-ray (as well as the 4K and DVD editions) is an interesting choice, considering that the scene – the Invisible Man’s hand print appearing on a steamy glass shower door – was ultimately cut out of the film film, and it is unfortunately not even one of the nine deleted scenes that are included. among the bonus material.
Of those deleted scenes, including a love interest for James (played by Aldris Hodge), Cecilia bonding with Sydney (played by Storm Reid), a mention of Aldrian (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen) being allergic to daisies, Cecilia not being able to find her phone right before her job interview, and James and a lawyer discussing an insanity plea after Cecilia is arrested at the restaurant, most were wisely edited out.
There are also four behind the scenes featurettes, including a four-minute focus on Moss, in which she talks about what drew her to the project and the real life parallels to Cecilia’s trauma that many women have actually experienced. “A lot of people have dealt with ‘invisible men’ in their lives,” she says.
“Director’s Journey with Leigh Whannell” is an abbreviated 10-minute documentary that follows Whannell from Day 1 of the production all the way to the end of principal photography on Day 40, while “The Players” is a five-minute featurette focusing on the excellent supporting cast.
“Timeless Terror” only runs about two minutes, but touches on the rich history of The Invisible Man and how Whannell tried to approach “the legacy of the character with reverence.”
A timely reinvention of a classic story, and a signpost directing Universal how to proceed with their beloved monsters, this will go on the shelf next to the 1933 original.
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