The Invisible Man Should Be Seen! (Movie Review)

The genre of stalker/slasher/monster tale gets a much-needed upgrade in writer/director Leigh Wannell’s new take on one of Universal Pictures original boogeymen: the Invisible Man. Elisabeth Moss is back in another terrific Blumhouse-produced pic that is quite smart, timely, and scary AF. As the gothic castles of old have evolved into the gigantic, ultra-modern homes of Northern Cali’s tech geniuses, the use of space is stunning and unnerving. That the film over-performed last weekend ($29 million on a $7 million budget) is excellent news for any horror fan as this is the type of quality film that works like gangbusters in a packed theater. The Invisible Man is here and demands to be seen!

As a kid from the 80s, I could never get enough of my fill of slasher pics. Michael Myers was my favorite, but I remember going through a bunch of VHS bootlegs of my neighbor’s older brothers Friday the 13th collection (I think they were up to Part VII at that point). Then there was Freddy and Chucky, among others. The body count was high. Scores, for the most part, were synth heaven. Kills were often creative. Yes, we cheered for the final girl to escape, but we never for a second thought the killer would truly be defeated. The truth is we didn’t want them to be.

The boogeymen of post-Vietnam were violence-numbed existential threats more than any real person. For the most part, they were outsiders ignored by the status quo (sometimes literally ignored like young Jason drowning in Crystal Lake). So, while we got disturbed by The Shape’s way of peering into our souls (“staring at the wall, looking through the wall, to this day…”), audiences of that era also rooted for them. By the time we get to Freddy Krueger’s misogynistic taunts, things took a bad turn (this was, after all, Reagan’s America). Over time, the killer became even less corporal as the 90s and early 00s gave us the eerie Candyman and the fun Final Destinations.

With that in mind, I was absolutely shocked to find myself sternly in camp Cecilia (Moss) from frame one in The Invisible Man. Yes, we can’t see this menace, but his backstory is less existential and definitely not sympathetic. Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), an optics specialist who has abused Cecilia for years, both mentally and physically. It’s no wonder that as the film opens, she’s doing everything she can to remain silent while she makes her escape from Adrian’s high tech lair. In a fun twist, she even uses his own security cameras against him as she turns all off but one. On her smartphone, she can make sure he’s still sleeping. She (and by extension we) nervously keep looking back to make sure he hasn’t budged. Cecilia needs to escape – now.

Weeks later, while staying at a friend’s home, strange things start to happen. She’s been told Adrian killed himself and left her $5 million. The money is hers with 100k in monthly installments as long as she commits no criminal acts and is of sound mind. But all those weird bumps in the night will drive her (anyone, really) to be stressed and maybe a little out of her mind. That Wanell’s script never really ventures into the “is it all in her head” scenario is a godsend. We know, but we don’t know how exactly, Adrian is alive and is now invisible to human eyes.

As the plot ventures from small to larger environments, Whanell keeps us focused on what we can’t see. A wide shot of a kitchen feels like a deathtrap of knives, hard floors, and gas-lit stoves. An attic is dark and claustrophobic. Even the desolate streets of a Bay Area suburban enclave can be terrifying. We know he’s out there. Cecilia does too. Moss lets us in by showing how scared and unnerved she is externally. How can she or anyone stop being abused by something that may as well just be in the air? It’s an apt metaphor for any kind of toxic relationship, and how a person gets in your head even long after they’ve gone. But in the case of this hard to see being, they are most certainly not out of the picture.

The supporting cast is solid. Aldis Hodge (Hidden Figures) and Wrinkle in Time‘s Storm Reid make the biggest impression as Cecilia’s surrogate family. Her actual family consists solely of her sister Emily (Harriet), although the character is a tad underused. Genre actor Michael Dorman (Triangle) plays the beta brother Tom Griffin to Adrian’s alpha. The main draw of the film is Cecilia’s struggle against Adrian, so there’s not a ton of room for supporting players. Still, there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch.

My high expectations for Whanell’s follow-up to 2018’s impressive Upgrade were met. Though there’s not a lot of action, it’s clear from a few key sequences that the director has a unique way of staging movement. Like Upgrade, some of the more thrilling moments have a camera locked onto an actor, so they occupy space in tandem with the POV. Also, cinematographer Stefan Duscio’s striking use of lines to inform composition and by extension our eyes is measured, studied. I mean that in a good way, as this is a film where the protagonist needs to overcome a person as calculating as Adrian.

I was wary about how this POV switch would work for a monster movie whose origins are the 1930s. The original James Whale/Claude Raines classic, as well as Paul Verhoven’s own (not so great) Hollow Man, were films about being invisible men. They began as cocky jerks, and over time the serum that makes them invisible drove them mad, psychotic. Here, Adrian is terrible from frame one, so we’re with Celicia the whole time. That one tweak makes this an essential leap in the film’s of it’s kind. This boogeyman is real, even if you can’t see him.


1 Response to “The Invisible Man Should Be Seen! (Movie Review)”

  1. Gregg

    This movie was excellent!!! I did not expect it to be as suspenseful and creepy as it was.