We are living through an age of re-invention. Whether it is through fashion trends, slang, or in the case of The Invisible Man (2020), horror films. Re-invention is more than just re-adaptation or a reboot. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) was a reboot of the eponymous 1984 film. However, The Invisible Man is the re-invention of its 1933 predecessor.
Instead of re-telling the old story of Griffin- a maniacal scientist who turns himself invisible- this is the story of Cecilia “Cee” Kass (Elizabeth Moss) on the run from her sociopathic, abusive boyfriend, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen.) Adrian is an optics scientist who has gained indispensable wealth through his inventions. One invention in particular, however, he has kept to himself, and it is a suit covered in cameras that renders it’s host invisible. So after Cecilia’s prison break from Adrian’s physical grasp at the beginning of the film, he fakes his own suicide and uses his invisible suit to continue his abuse towards Cecilia in a more sinister and horrific way.
What makes a man like Adrian so terrifying is his power to control. This works not only in the film but in reality as well, and that’s where the true terror lies. Adrian isn’t a supernatural ghost, vampire, nor werewolf. His villainy is tangible in the real world, and you can feel it driving chills up your spine as you watch the story play out. Even after escaping his physical reach, Cee knows she is still within his mental and financial grasp. You see, Adrian is the Invisible Man even before he wears the suit. His shield is his money, and he uses it to control others. Adrian was abusive long before he was with Cecilia, but his money protected his image and silenced his prior victims. Cee is terrified even after she is “safe” because she knows there is no safety as long as he has the resources to find her. The invisibility aspect gives space for the supernatural horror, but Adrian’s tactics are an all too real terror. He isolates her, sabotages her career, and threatens her loved ones.
Writer and director of the film, Leigh Whannell, has proven before that he is a clever horror curator. His work on the Saw (2004) script as well as the Insidious (2014) script show that he understands how to tap into different aspects of fear and horror. But it was his work with Upgrade (2018) that exemplifies just how technically brilliant of a director he can be, especially with action sequences. The Invisible Man definitely carries on what you can expect from Whannell in these talents, which is the unexpected. The intricate plot twists work smartly with the story line, and it’s done so well to keep you on your toes. Whannell almost perfectly captured the suffocating fear of an abusive relationship. He also was able to narrate an image of wealth and the darkness that lurks behind the men with insurmountable bounds of it and who use it to manipulate aspects of their lives like pawns on the board. I only wish the subplot of Adrian “giving” money to Cee in his will was explored more, as it is just another weapon for him in his tool-belt to try to debilitate others.
However, having an invisible ‘bad guy’ means you have to tell your audience when he’s in the room without actually showing him, and in this aspect, Whannell succeeds to a T. His camera work eerily brings the invisible man to life, and the film exhibits the ‘feeling‘ of being watched- that feeling you get when you’re home alone, but it doesn’t feel like it for some odd reason. This feeling also translates from this to being the survivor of abuse.
The film also requires a lot of body acting, and of course, Elizabeth Moss kills it! She takes on the task boldly and throws herself around physically, totally committed to the role. She also takes on the emotional aspect magnificently, which honestly comes as no surprise when thinking of her film history before this. But she honestly never ceases to amaze me.
While Elizabeth Moss was very much a starlight shining throughout the film, credit is definitely due to supporting actors Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid. Their physical acting as well as their connection to Elizabeth through high-intensity moments was vital to keeping up the momentum driven by Moss and the plot. Storm Reid is a young star, and she convinced me through every moment she was on screen. Harriet Dyer who plays Cecilia’s sister, Emily, did the best with what she was given, I believe. Her character was completely un-fleshed out and came off harsher than expected, but she still played well in the film.
Overall, the film works so well because of the camerawork, the technicalities, and the strong performances from each actor. Whannell has always known how to push gore and uncomfortable moments just enough that gets you squirming without making you shut down completely. And he definitely puts his main heroine through the ringer in some very harrowing moments, but he never makes her a damsel without a will. She keeps her wits and her dignity, and I respect that display Whannell made of her in the end.
The Invisible Man was reinvented perfectly for the modern day it was created for. It is a nuanced haunting tale that reaches into the core of real life fears and translates them through supernatural anecdotes. And there is no doubt that the fear was captured brilliantly, even through small mishaps. However, in a time of #MeToo and push for fundamental change, the question is: Does this film just play on the real-life horrors of others, or is it genuinely trying to translate meaning through media output?