It’s a shame that The Invisible Man had to be quickly sidelined by the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of movie theaters. Made on a meager $7 million budget, it reportedly earned over $143 million worldwide. It’s a rare sci-fi horror movie that actually has a good story, direction and action behind it as well as thrills that don’t cheapen.
Released on Feb. 28, 2020, this modern-day adaptation had been lingering in development hell for a few years as Universal Studios tried to wipe the egg off its face from the infamous Dark Universe failure that was The Mummy in 2017. Not everything needs to be connected in one way of the other. You have the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe and those Godzilla and King Kong movies (which were supposed to conclude but a Son of Kong is being considered.
The Invisible Man was supposed to be in the Dark Universe and is still considered to some extent. However, it works just fine as its own movie mainly because the direction by Leigh Whannell and acting by Elizabeth Moss keep us on edge for the two hours. I realized we didn’t even “see” the titular character until halfway through and even then I was questioning whether it was too soon.
The plot involves Moss as Cecilia Kass, an architect living in the San Francisco Bay area, who is trapped in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who is reportedly a brilliant wealthy optics engineer and businessman. Yet, he’s also violent and very controlling.
The movie opens with Cecilia or “Cee” as she’s called, of course, drugging Adrian with diazepam so she can make a clean break in the middle of the night. But since it’s a movie, things don’t go as planned and Adrian is alerted. Cee is able to get free with a ride by her estranged sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), but she lives in seclusion in the home of her friend, James Lanier (Aldis Hodge), a Bay area police detective, and his teen daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid) for a few weeks.
She later finds out that Adrian has reportedly committed suicide and has left her $5 million under conditions. Adrian’s brother, Tom (Michael Dorman), a lawyer, is executor of his estate and you can sense that Tom is just as disturbed as his brother.
Cee tries to start over but strange things start happening. She hears things around the house. Then, one day, when making breakfast, she goes to wake Sydney and the skillet catches fire. The covers end up on the floor while she sleeps. She thinks someone is in the house but it’s passed off. Whannell and his production make good use of camera angles and silence to portray an eerie sense that another presence is in the rooms with the characters watching them.
Then, one day when she goes into a job interview, she discovers that the portfolio she brought is actually empty. Then, she passes only to find out she has been drugged by the same diazepam bottle she thought she had at Adrian’s house. She suspects that Adrian isn’t dead even after being shown photos and things only get worse from there.
Since this is about a man who may or may not be invisible, a lot of this has to rely on whether the handful of actors can pull off the roles. And as Cee has to deal with all the strange events around her, she can’t get anyone to believe her.
I really don’t want to say anymore because it ruins the suspense and all the twists that happen in the second half of the movie. It almost seems exhausting to see Cee go through all this. Since she is a victim of domestic abuse, it’s easy for others to pass her behavior off as paranoia. One person I know who was a victim says they don’t like anyone coming up from behind them and I can understand that.
Is Adrian really dead or did he fake it? If he is dead, could it be his spirit? Obviously, this is about a man who has been able to make himself invisible. And how this is possible is actually an impressive invention. I might add that this avoids the confusion on how anyone who is invisible isn’t blind as their eyes act as mirrors. There’s been a lot of invisible people movies that never addressed this, even though Chevy Chase observing his own food digesting in Memoirs of an Invisible Man was nicely done.
I must add that the movie was filmed in Australia which is Whannell’s native country. I was never a fan of his Saw movies which I think worked good in the concept but there was too much overkill in the execution. The ending here has divided audiences but I think it does work well.
Part of the problem with movies like Hollow Man is they ended up focusing too much on special effects it deviated from the story and I could never understand how Kevin Bacon’s character went as violent and sadistic as fast. Adrian Griffin is a psychopath from the start and his controlling portrayal of an abuser is very accurate. It’s so accurate I’m sure some victims might actually have to stop watching.
There’s even one scene is when Cee speaks to the titular character asking him why a rich and intelligent person chose her. Abusers pick their prey based on who they can control. Cee has a little bit of a weakness to her that abusers can control and manipulate. But by the end, Cee is able to become stronger and be one step ahead. I’m not a fan of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but casting Moss in this role was the best thing Whannell and producer Jason Blum did. You need a good actress to be able to look at an empty sofa or a concrete wall and still see someone there who no one else can see.
The Invisible Man may just be one of the best sci-fi horror movies I’ve seen in years mainly because Whannell and Moss and the rest of the cast understand the psychological thrills behind it. It’s a damn shame Moss was overlooked at many of the award shows, because without her, you just have a schlock movie. And Whannell has given his collaborator James Wan a run for his money as a horror director. Hopefully, his follow-up movie will be just as good as this.