H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man is one of the greatest science fiction/horror novels ever created. The story of a man who goes mad with power after finding a way to make himself invisible has been adapted multiple times with varying levels of success. The Universal film starring Claude Rains is considered the best. Hollow Man by Paul “I Directed Showgirls” Verhoven is considered the worst. Yet the idea has been done so many times that it seems like there is no real potential left in the concept and no way to return to the classic idea of a creepy, science-gone-wrong story that is effective at scaring people.
Then director Leigh Whannell said “hold my beer.”
In this new take on The Invisible Man, Elizabeth Moss plays Cecilia, a woman who is trapped in an abusive relationship with a rich optics design genius named Adrien. One night, unable to take the physical abuse and gaslighting anymore, she escapes into the night with the help of her sister, Emily. Celia goes into hiding, while living with her life long friend James (a police detective who is single and had a teenage daughter named Sydney) and deals with the PTSD that the relationship brought on. Cecilia not only fears simple tasks like stepping outside to grab the mail, but also cannot bring herself to talk to anyone about what Adrien has done to her. That all changes the moment Emily arrives at James’ home and informs Cecilia that Adrien killed himself. Finally opening up about the hell she lived in, those around her realize that Cecilia is lucky to be alive.
Two weeks later, Cecilia is called to meet with a lawyer named Tom, who happens to be the younger brother of Adrien. Cecilia learns she has been left $5 million, so long as she does not commit crimes and remains mentally competent. Finding a new lease on life, Cecilia celebrates with some retail therapy and by helping Sydney plan for her own future. However, things start happening around Cecilia that drive her to believe Adrien faked his death and has found a way to render himself invisible. Everyone she loves and trusts not only begin doubting her sanity but also become victims of cruel acts that appear to have been committed by Cecilia. The truth is far more frightening and sinister.
The Invisible Man is a refreshing take on the classic tale. This is due not only to the advanced CGI used to bring the titular invisible man to life but also because of Leigh Whannell’s clever script. It successfully evokes the spirit of the #MeToo movement,without being preachy nor poorly handled. Most importantly, it takes the core idea of the original story from 1898 and makes it scary again.
Elizabeth Moss is the film’s greatest asset. Her performance here is a prime example of what I am now calling “Doing a Collette.” That is to say that she gives an Oscar-worthy performance that will most likely go ignored, because The Academy hate genre pieces in general and horror movies in particular. Moss does a good job conveying the torture that Cecilia is being currently put through while acting in such a manner as to be believably perceived as dangerously insane by others. It’s a fine line to walk, yet she does it with finesse.
With this film, Leigh Whannell has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with. Starting as a writer for the Saw franchise and a star in the Insidious films, he hits it out of the ballpark directing this, his first big studio horror film. He does an excellent job at keeping the tension at just the right level before goosing us with a jolt and proves to be as effective a director as he is a writer. I am excited to see what doors this film will open for him.
Universal has tried many times to revamp their classic horror films and the majority of these efforts failed hard. It turns out that what was needed was right in front of them all these years, perhaps invisible until now. In time, The Invisible Man will be viewed as being to Leigh Whannell what The Fly is to David Cronenberg or The Thing is to John Carpenter.