Come for the monster, stay for the Moss.
A modern spin. It’s a label often thrown at most reboots/remakes/retellings/reimaginings, however you want to frame them. Usually it’s a phrase that ends up referring to a superficial sheen, a snazzy visual update without rethinking the substance of the original tale or offering anything new to make it more impactful for a modern day audience. Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man relates to the current #MeToo wave, but it’s potency and relevance would not be questioned in any era, while proving a damn effective thriller.
From iconic producer Jason Blum (Halloween, Split, Get Out, Us) and director Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious, Upgrade), this psychological thriller modernizes Universal’s shapeshifting, classic monster against a backdrop of an empowered woman facing her tormentor. The Invisible Man follows a modern tale of obsession inspired by Universal’s classic monster character. Cecilia Kass(Elisabeth Moss) slowly begins to rebuild her life after the death of her abusive ex-boyfriend (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). But before long, she begins to question whether or not he is truly gone.
Just over three years ago, Universal, custodians of the Monsters Legacy, announced a revival of the long running series. The Dark Universe, kicked off with the Tom Cruise vehicle The Mummy, that fell utterly flat. A messy, big budget affair that leant into hollow spectacle rather than excitement or mythology. Cut to 2020 and Blumhouse, the purveyors of low budget but often highly effective horror fare, get a chance to show how these classic monsters can persist into current day. Something that thrillingly looks to continue with them bringing on board Karyn Kusama to helm a Dracula retelling. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious, Upgrade) the filmmaker pulls from his genre leanings and the original novel by H.G. Wells for an upgrade (see what I did there) fit for 2020. In most adaptations, it is the process of the transformation, or the power of being invisible that perverts the mind of those involved. In this new version, the titular character is an unhinged asshole from the off, also differing by flipping the point of view away from him and onto a young woman, one already subjected to his physical and psychological abuse, unaware it is about to escalate even further thanks to his technologically fueled terror.
The opening introduces us to Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), and the pains she goes to in order to escape the luxury home she shares with her boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). A manipulative and controlling man who happens to be at the forefront of optics research. She is seconded by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer),to their friend James (Aldis Hodge), a cop raising his teen daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid). Crippled by trauma, she is unable to leave their home until she hears news of Adrian’s death by suicide. She is soon contacted by Adrian’s brother and lawyer, Tom (Michael Dorman) and informed that he has left her $5 million, albeit with several stipulations attached. Another sign of the control that Adrian will continue to exert over her life. With a semblance of peace, she starts to rebuild her life, until small things start to occur, unnerving Cecilia and leading those around her to question her mental state. Self-doubt creeps in, but it’s not long before Cecilia is convinced that Adrian is still alive, and intent on continuing his torment of her.
Whannell takes an incredibly smart approach to the structure and story of the film, one that gives freshness to an old tale and urgency to it’s themes of manipulation, abuse, and trauma. Many will connect not only with Cecilia’s plight, but the lingering effects of her experience and self-doubt, isolating her from those around her. The film also takes a swipe at Adrian’s influence, wealth, and privilege (it’s unlikely a coincidence he was cast as a handsome, white man), which shields him and facilitates his gaslighting as much as his invisibility does. The film moves at a cracking pace, Whannell using some tropes you’d expect and upending others to keep you off-balance. He deftly shifts things between quiet moments where paranoia is allowed to fester and grown, and ramping up into driven, tense conflicts when Cecilia and Adrian collide, later bringing others into the crossfire.
Stefan Duscio returns as DoP after a previous outing with Whannell on Upgrade, a thrilling film where the protagonist had a unseen AI implanted into his body to not just restore mobility, but at times take control and use his body to it’s/their own end. Themes of control, perspective, and violation there, continue on in The Invisible Man. Upgrade’s frenetic, shifting camera work now tempered into something more deliberate. Clean framing, minimal fuss, stark openness and stillness that adds to the disconcerted atmosphere. The use of empty space really stands out, as does the use of the camera as an audience surrogate. WE know there is an invisible man out there, so everytime the camera lingers on a long corridor or a empty chair or is positioned in the corner of an attic, it leaves our minds to speculate. We’ll never be in the same headspace as Cecilia but Whannell and Duscio do their damn best to get us there by weaponizing the camera and our point of view. The most immersive element of the film is undoubtedly Elisabeth Moss, who delivers another powerhouse performance after her stellar work in Mad Men, The Handmaid’s Tale, Us, and most recently the fantastic Her Smell. The tension and distress from Moss is palpable, immersing you in every moment. A visceral performance where Moss conveys a magnitude of pain and trauma with a look, and sketches out a woman whose vulnerabilities have been exploited, but still has capabilities, smarts, and the strength to see her though, meaning the film’s resolution was not so much inevitable as well earned and empowering.
The Blu-ray edition (also included in the 4K package), shows an impressive about of detail, but it is the 4K edition where the transfer really flexes. Much of the film relies on darkness and depth to build tension and its in these moments the release shines. Black levels are superb, contrast too, even lighter scenes show a natural and quality command of the palette. As a recent convert to the 4K ecosystem, the benefits of the upgrade are clear. The extra features are nicely put together too:
- Deleted Scenes: Scenes: Annie, Blow It Up. Make It Rain. Out to Sea., Butt Changing Room Montage, Chug, Daisies, I Can Do This, Insanity Defense, There’s Someone Sitting In That Chair, and Where’s My Phone?. They tally up to around 13 minutes and for the most part expand on or repeat moments covered elsewhere. Some are nice to see Whannell indulge his genre side
- Moss Manifested: An all too brief look at the commitment of Moss to the role, in terms of emotion and the sheer physicality too
- Director’s Journal with Leigh Whannell: Just over 10 minutes of the director speaking about his relationship with genre cinema, particularly horror, as well as his interest in the Universal monsters series. The conversation is intercut with behind the scenes footage too
- The Players: A short rundown of the cast
- Timeless Terror: Short but interesting reflection on how Whannell looked to put a updated spin on the original story, including the inversion of the POV from the man to the victim
- Audio Commentary: Certainly the strongest extra features here, and one of the better commentaries I’ve heard in a while, as Writer/Director Leigh Whannell does a great job of offering insights to his approach, background on production, and anecdotes from the set
- Blu-ray and & digital download code copies included
The Bottom Line
The Invisible Man marks a directorial flex from Leigh Whannell, who also delivers a sharp and timely script. A tour de force performance from Elisabeth Moss elevates a immaculately composed feature to one palpable with tension and trauma. A superb horror thriller for the now, and indeed any time.
The Invisible Man is available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD, from 26th May