The Invisible Man (2020)

FEBRUARY 28, 2020


There's a sequence in The Invisible Man that operates a lot like the majority of A Quiet Place, where our protagonist (Elisabeth Moss) is doing several things that would normally produce sound but she has to do them in total silence, lest she be attacked, and in turn makes you the viewer not want to make a single sound (I vividly remember a lady trying desperately to quietly remove her coat for Quiet Place; I felt guilty when I shifted in my chair and it squeaked here). The inevitable moment when she DOES accidentally cause a commotion yields one of the best jolts I've experienced in quite some time, and it's all the more impressive that it's the very first sequence in the film. I didn't realize it at the time, but that the film opens this way, sans any introductions or prologue, is a key element to why the movie works as well as it does, though getting into the specifics requires spoilers so I'll get back to that in a few paragraphs (and warn you ahead of time).

Because of my undying loyalty to John Carpenter and Chevy Chase I've been making a lot of jokes about how this new movie is a slap in the face to the "original Invisible Man" (Memoirs was released exactly 28 years ago today, in fact - guess they're not superstitious), noting that they turned Chevy's character into an abusive jerk and probably never showed him chewing gum, but what I didn't realize is that Leigh Whannell's script would be ignoring the other (read: actual) version as well. It may be touted as Universal reviving its classic monster, but unlike their Wolfman remake from 2010, there are no almost no similarities to their old film, nor do they even credit HG Wells' novel with the writing credits. The title character's last name is Griffin (though the first name has changed from Jack to Adrian), but it almost seems like a little homage as opposed to a genuine attempt to present a new take on the character, and that's as close as it gets to a similarity. The science stuff is minimized, he has no allies or anyone trying to cure him, and - sorry, body count enthusiasts - he does not derail a train or cause any other massive chaos.

No, this time it's a personal, psychologically driven story that takes place almost entirely from the perspective of Cecilia (Moss), Griffin's wife who has decided to escape from him and his abusive ways (that's what she's doing in the opening scene, if you haven't connected those dots). Having hidden this pain from her only support unit (her sister and a cop whose connection to her is never quite made clear; Wiki says he's a childhood friend though), they take her word for it why she had to leave him, and she starts putting her life back together. But then he allegedly kills himself and leaves her a large inheritance, payable in monthly installments as long as she doesn't commit any crimes or be found to be mentally unfit, and that progress shatters. Within days, she is seemingly disqualified on the latter grounds, as she keeps claiming that she is being watched, and that Adrian isn't dead but has found a way to become invisible and continue menacing her. Naturally, the belief her friends had can only stretch so far - she is being gaslit by Adrian (and/or his brother, the lawyer that laid out the rules) while her friends start to wonder if she is crazy - or perhaps, was simply gaslighting them and making up an abuse story.


And this works beautifully, because we indeed never see Adrian being abusive, going only on her word that he was* and never really doubting it. It's only her say-so (and Moss' slam dunk performance) that tells us what kind of man Adrian is/was, because we never see it for ourselves, which makes this a kind of ultimate "believe women" story. Anyone who has been online for the past few years has undoubtedly seen someone reply "where's the proof?" when a celebrity is accused of this or that awful thing, because they just refuse to believe the person saying it, and here we have a heightened example - they quickly believe the abuse stories, but won't believe that he's invisible and that she's not responsible for the chaos he inflicts (using her computer to write a nasty email to her sister, stealing her portfolio out of her briefcase so she looks crazy at her job interview, etc), putting her in the same predicament as any number of real life women.

The kicker is that we know she isn't crazy, because Whannell doesn't delay that answer - we see the Invisible Man's breath forming and a knife being flung off a counter pretty early on, albeit without her seeing anything either for a while. The villain simply chooses not to let his presence be known to anyone else, so it's not a question of "is she crazy?" - Whannell just found a way to make us fully understand her mental frustration (I'd compare it to the backwards unfolding of Memento re: getting us to understand its protagonist's mind). It's sort of leveling up the scenario women have to face all the time, using the language of horror movies (and one of the bonafide "classic monsters") to - in a relatively subtle way - get doubting types in the audience to understand how vexing it can be to have no one believe you, because we get to be witness to things no one else can see (including Cecilia), and spend 90 minutes hearing everyone say it's not true. It get kind of frustrating, because that elusive "proof" has been in plain sight to us but we can't convince anyone to believe us - not unlike a woman claiming she's been abused by (name a public figure who people will defend because they don't want to believe it). It's essentially a lesson in empathy, one that will hopefully have you think twice next time you hear about abuse and your kneejerk reaction is to think the person is lying.


Luckily, if you're not in the mood to think about the abuse metaphor and just want a standard invisible man thriller, it delivers on that front as well. Due to the nature of its plot he can't quite cut loose almost right from the start like Claude Rains' Griffin did (everything has to be potentially explained as her doing), but when he does Whannell brings it, with an effective mix of lo-fi old-school techniques (i.e. gifted actors pantomiming) and some digital trickery. Nothing as state of the art as Memoirs or Hollow Man (this IS a Blumhouse film after all, so it has a small budget used efficiently, not a huge budget wasted on nonsense), but there are some very nice visual FX shots scattered throughout, such as when she tosses a paint can at him and the splatter only reveals a small percent of his body. There's also a fun long take sequence where various security guards keep showing up, seeing the chaos that occurred before they got there, assuming it's her doing, then getting the surprise of their lives (which may be about to end) before the process repeats, making you wonder just how many people need to show up before anyone believes her invisible man stories. And he gets a ton of mileage out of merely letting his camera drift or cut to an empty corner of the room, without ever telling us whether or not Adrian is actually there (I mean, the jerk's gotta go eat and pee and sleep sometimes, right? We're never told for sure).

The cast is also great across the board. Moss is in pretty much every frame and she absolutely nails it (she's come a long way from The Attic, in which she also played a woman who believes someone is trying to kill her, funnily enough), but her supporting cast is no slouch either. Aldis Hodge continues to impress, playing the only decent man in the movie, and I was instantly charmed by Harriet Dyer as Cecelia's sister, who lands the movie's best line when the two go out for dinner and she shoos the annoying waiter away without missing a beat. As for Oliver Jackson-Cohen as the title character, he naturally doesn't get too much screentime, but he makes the most of what little he has - we don't need to see the abuse to recognize a man that has impulse issues. And if you're a fan of Whannell's Upgrade (and why wouldn't you be?) you'll enjoy both a nice Easter Egg to that film's world as well as a brief turn by Benedict "Fisk" Hardie as a potential employer.

This film began life as one of Universal's stupid "Dark Universe" movies, and would have starred Johnny Depp (and maybe Tom Cruise and/or Russell Crowe stopping by), and I can't help but think with Depp in the role they would have copied Carpenter/Chevy and shown him as often as possible (either through disguises/makeup or just Carpenter's seemingly exclusive idea to just trust the audience to remember he's supposed to be invisible), and - if Mummy is any indication - it would have been a supernaturally charged action movie instead of the actual horror movie we want to see with these characters. So while I never root for a movie to fail, I'm glad Mummy tanked, forcing them to abandon that idea and start over (as for Depp, well, the reason they'd want to get rid of him too is a rich irony I suppose, given the movie's themes), because what we got instead is a suspenseful, timely horror-thriller that maximizes the potential for its villain and proves once and for all that the classic monsters can indeed be brought back for modern audiences when placed in the right hands.

What say you?

*He angrily chases after her when she tries to escape, and smashes the window of her sister's car trying to get her to stop, but considering she drugged him to get away in the first place makes it a sort of gray area example. From her sister's perspective they're basically attacking each other, since she wasn't informed about the abuse.


  1. "The title character's last name is Griffin, but it almost seems like a little homage as opposed to a genuine attempt to present a new take on the character, and that's as close as it gets to a similarity."

    I recall them doing the exact same thing in Hollow Man 2.

  2. "our protagonist (Elizabeth Moss) is doing several things that would normally produce sound but she has to do them in total silence, lest she be attacked, and in turn makes you the viewer not want to make a single sound"

    I was dying while watching Sandra Bullock in Gravity because of this. I just cant handle seeing people in stressful situations for too long and that movie is just a long sequence of stress inducing situations.


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