The Invisible Man: Rip-roaring horror flips HG Wells' classic on its head

Lula Sharp
February 27, 2020

I'd suggest the ruthless exploitation of our wounds and fears is one reason some of us go to horror movies in the first place; what matters is how skillfully it's being done.

Leigh Whannell's nerve-jangling The Invisible Man bears nearly no resemblance to the 1933 Universal pic starring Claude Rains, nor does it take much from the original H. G. Wells novel of the same name. There's a potentially potent metaphor here for the invisible man representing the shadow of an abusive relationship clinging to the abuser even after it's finished but human psychology quickly takes a backseat to funhouse scares, with mixed results. It's the familiar tale of a hero trying to convince those around that something dastardly yet unexplainable is afoot and while formulaic, there's a timeliness to its portrait of an abused woman fighting for the right to be believed.

"Personal and real" was kind of the mantra when it came to most aspects of The Invisible Man. There are no speechifying moments; no scenes that underscore that message.

There are a couple of moments in The Invisible Man that will jolt you out of your seat, and which will make you think twice before buying long kitchen knives. A lot of the story's grip-hold is owed to Moss's performance: raw, jittery, and nearly unbearably tensed, she's a woman whose own body is a prison, as long as her ex walks around without one. She escapes in the dead of night and disappears into hiding, aided by her sister, their childhood friend, and his teenage daughter. That would be Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a wealthy scientist and sadistic abuser who, upon realizing that Cecilia has left him, devises one hell of a revenge scheme. Adrian's death is freeing in a way - but the relief is short-lived. But she can't shake the feeling that a control freak like Adrian is never really gone.

Is it Adrian's ghost?

Elisabeth Moss plays Cecilia, who leaves her abusive husband only to discover she's in more danger than ever before, as Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) will do anything, up to and including turning himself invisible, to possess her. It might seem like a minor flaw of The Invisible Man in how nimbly Cecilia jumps to this conclusion. It's a wild accusation - but it's also 100% correct.

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Moss is a powerhouse here, and that should come as no surprise at this point.

Does anyone give better struggle face than Elizabeth Moss?

Speaking to Angela Bishop on Studio 10, Moss explained she felt like Whannell's take was "brilliant". It's a sure sign of Whannell's talent that The Invisible Man feels so different than his previous directorial effort, Upgrade.

The young actress, whose credits include A Wrinkle In Time and When They See Us, brought along her mother Robyn to the premiere. Whannell never resorts to shameless jump-scares in these moments, but instead allows the scenes to build, and build, and build to the point where it's nearly unbearable.

And that's just the opening scene. "What that meeting did was spark something in me where I could see a way to modernise it and to make it truly scary", Whannell said.

Beyond the more traditional horror moments like rest something even scarier: Hopelessness. As the vehicle frees itself from his grasp and they drive off into the night, Cecilia doesn't sigh relief or laugh manically, violently like Sally at the end of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. "In fact, sometimes it's more effective with string because.there's something tactile and touchable about practical effects that you just can't do with CGI". Some of the best horror films are those that take otherworldly scenarios and graft them onto current events - think of They Live and its reaction to Reaganomics; Night of the Living Dead's unspoken reflection on racism in America; or David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly and its relation to the AIDS epidemic. If The Mummy and Dracula Untold (which may or may not have been a part of the franchise plans - it remains unclear) are any indication, these movies would have been blockbuster-style action films more akin to Mission: Impossible at best or Underworld at worst.

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