Cecilia Kass has been in an emotionally abusive relationship for some time with optic scientist Adrian Griffin. Though she succeeds in escaping from his clutches one night, she can’t help but fear that he will eventually find her and manipulate her again. Two weeks after her escape, Cecilia gets the news that Adrian has died and left her his fortune, which helps her begin to move on and start a new life. This period of serenity is short-lived, however, as Cecilia starts to feel an ominous, yet phyiscal presence around her. Is trauma catching up to her, or has Adrian found a way to become invisible?
HG Wells’ 1897 novel The Invisible Man is one of the most iconic pieces of science-fiction horror literature. It had previously been adapted to film in 1933 and became a staple in Universal Pictures’ Monster collection along with the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy. In 2016, it was announced that Universal would re-adapt The Invisible Man for their planned monster-themed cinematic universe, the Dark Universe. When their first installment in the series, The Mummy, bombed with critics and the box office in 2017, Universal decided to put the Dark Universe on hold. Eventually, they partnered up with Blumhouse Productions to make The Invisible Man a stand-alone film. Judging by how the final product turned out, this was the right course-correction.
This modern-day adaptation of The Invisible Man was written and directed by Leigh Whannel, best known for writing the Insidious film series, as well as a few entries in the Saw franchise. Previously, in 2018, he wrote and directed the wildly underrated action thriller Upgrade, which made effective use of camera movement to make the events in the film feel more visceral. Whannel steps up his directing talent to greater effect with The Invisible Man, which is both beautifully shot and effectively lit. Some scenes include shots where the camera pans to the other side of a room or down a hallway, and the lack of movement within these frames suggests that the title character is there, unseen, provoking viewers to look for evidence of his presence, such as visible footprints on bed sheets, or a knife that falls but doesn’t make any sound when it hits the floor, which is a effectively subtle touch.
The opening scene, which sees Cecilia escaping from Adrian’s security-laced labyrinth of a mansion, shows just how much care and craft Whannel put into this film. It plays like a scene from Mission: Impossible or A Quiet Place, in that the slightest bit of noise can set anything off. According to the end credits, the film was optimized for IMAX theaters, and the sound here is so impressive, that this would sound daunting in IMAX. Whannel also did a great job with updating the classic story to modern times. In addition, the way technology is used by the film’s characters adds a new dimension of suspense, because despite the presence of state of the art security devices, not one moment of this film feels safe.
As technically impressive as the film is, it most likely wouldn’t have been as effective without Elisabeth Moss’s performance as Cecilia, because she is truly the heart of the film. Moss has proven time and time again to be an accomplished actress, even in the lesser films of her filmography. In every scene, one can feel the trauma that Cecilia has suffered at the hands of Adrian just by looking into Moss’s face. Even in the moments where she smiles, there is this unmistakable feeling of tension that becomes more visible as she continues to descend into madness in trying to prove that Adrian is alive and somehow invisible. If there are any moments in the film to criticize, it would have to be one scene where Cecilia is accused by another character of hitting her, even though she clearly could not have. Nevertheless, the film manages to keep the story suspenseful and interesting, all building up to a satisfying conclusion—and thankfully, with no post-credit scenes!
Because The Invisible Man was not forced to be part of any cinematic monster universe, it was allowed to be the suspenseful thriller it turned out to be, and all the better for it. It is beautifully shot, has incredible sound design, and is carried wonderfully by Elizabeth Moss’s lead performance. See it while it is still in theaters!