A horror-film re-make hitting theaters in late February? Nothing about this movie demands that you should go in with elevated expectations, but "The Invisible Man" surprisingly has more meat on its bones than you'd ever imagine. In fact, it's 2020's first, dare I say, great film.
"The Invisible Man" has been a staple of our culture and imagination for well over a century. The character, first realized in the science-fiction novel by H. G. Wells and published in 1897, was adopted as part of Universal Picture's "monster" canon when it was first brought to the big-screen in 1933. From there, there have been over 20 incarnations of "The Invisible Man" in one way or the other (even Abbott & Costello have a run in with him in the 50s). Almost always, this invisible "monster" is an allegory for male lust, voyeurism, or unbridled male dominance (our own Pedro Schwarzenegger recently took a deep dive into Paul Verhoeven's 2000 film, "Hollow Man" that I suggest you check out here).
Flash-forward to 2020's new incarnation of "The Invisible Man," it definitely keeps the horror spirit of the monster alive while re-shaping it to better represent more modern fears. This version is helped out greatly by the presence of actress Elisabeth Moss, who plays a woman, Cecilia, who is trying desperately to escape from a horrific, abusive relationship. When we first meet her, she is sneaking out of her boyfriend's castle-like fortress, something she clearly had been planning for sometime. As she tip-toes out in the dead of night, she walks through some kind of mad-scientist laboratory, which hints that this man in her life, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), is not just your average abusive douche-bag.
He in fact, is one of the top optic scientists in the world, and he promised Cecilia that if she ever tried to leave him, he would find her no matter what. Cecilia is paralyzed with paranoia that Adrian is going to come for her, that his control over her is not yet over. Even when her sister (Harriet Dyer) delivers news to Cecilia that Adrian is dead - having committed suicide - she has a hard time believing that her torture is over.
She stays temporarily with her great friend and cop James (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid). That's when weird shit starts to happen.
In addition to this being an effective horror movie, "The Invisible Man" works even better as an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Writer/Director Leigh Whannell ("Insidious: Chapter 3") does an impressive job of creating a thick tension in the opening scenes that never dissipates through the entirety of the film. He does a great job too, of neither confirming or denying that there is actually an invisible villain that is doing terrible things to Cecilia. Is Cecilia just crazy? What's up with Adrian's brother, Tom (Michael Dorman)? Pun intended, but you won't see most of what's coming.
Elisabeth Moss, on the heels of last year's "Her Smell" and her work previously on "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Mad Men," has already proven that she's simply one of the best actresses on the face of the planet. She's mesmerizing here. I feel like this movie isn't quite as exceptional without her in it.
Going beyond sexual allegories, this version of "The Invisible Man" says a lot about the current #MeToo culture, and how too often women's stories of abuse and/or oppression are not believed. None of this is hammered over the head...on its surface it works just fine as a popcorn-munchin' psychological thriller. But if you look closely at this or any incarnation of "The Invisible Man," you'll see several important, larger messages being addressed that are all too transparent.
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi.
Run Time: 2 hours and 4 minutes.
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer.
Written and Directed by Leigh Whannell ("Upgrade," "Insidious: Chapter 3").
"The Invisible Man" opens in theaters on Friday, February 28th, 2020.
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