Leigh Whannell’s spin on the classic H. G. Wells story initially started off as another entry in what was supposed to be Universal’s failed “Dark Universe,” which sought to bring together many of cinema’s most iconic horror monsters into their own shared universe. But after The Mummy had failed and said universe has only remained shelved ever since, Blumhouse took interest in reviving this project – turning it into a small-budget horror like all their most notable releases and what came forth from that is more than just a new contextualization of the Wells tale. The Invisible Man is every bit as terrifying as it can also be fun, but seeing what Whannell could do with the Wells classic to adapt it for a modern audience only further strengthens the film’s impact.
Starring Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass, a woman who escaped an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, The Invisible Man takes the Wells classic and turns it into a story about the psychological effects of gaslighting. Following her ex-boyfriend’s apparent suicide which led to Cecilia inheriting Adrian Griffin’s massive fortune, Cecilia becomes very suspicious of the circumstances as strange things begin happening to her from an unseen presence. She realizes that Griffin may not be dead after all and his invisibility has only become his means of continuously terrorizing her all that he can.
With the Wells tale and the original James Whale film presenting a tragic outlook upon which the title character’s means of making his presence known to people around himself, Whannell doesn’t center anymore around Griffin wanting to be visible but him using that power to get what he wants – creating a wonderfully paranoid atmosphere from beginning to end. Instead, the new context that Whannell provides is one that explores the psychological effects of gaslighting, and the helplessness that comes forth from the feeling of continuously being watched at every turn, especially as it comes after having suffered at the hands of domestic abuse. While retaining the sci-fi roots of its source, The Invisible Man takes upon a very real horror and makes you feel it on the inside thanks to Elisabeth Moss’s fantastic performance.
On the whole, it’s also impressive to see how much has Leigh Whannell been able to pull off with such a limited budget. The visual effects are very polished, the film also boasts exciting set pieces within the third act, but these limitations, while they are often found within the best of Blumhouse’s productions, can also speak volumes for the claustrophobic atmosphere that Whannell seeks to create from the idea that you’re made to face a horror that only one person is able to see. The jump scares never feel inauthentic, but as Whannell crafts a world that feels wholly lived in by its viewers – exemplifying that fear of no one believing you.
The Invisible Man carries everything that could make a horror classic within the new decade. While I’m not entirely sure that the film should be near as long as it is nor do all the jump scares work, there was never a moment where I found myself bored – and it’s hard for me to get mad at a new horror film that successfully did get a gasp out of me. But seeing this story re-interpreted as a tale for the #MeToo generation, there’s a greater resonance that can be felt too. And that very real fear is what makes it so effective too. Whatever Leigh Whannell’s got in store for the future, I’m more than willing to sign up.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Universal.
Directed by Leigh Whannell
Screenplay by Leigh Whannell, from the novel by H. G. Wells
Produced by Jason Blum, Kyle du Fresne
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Release Date: February 28, 2020
Running Time: 124 minutes