The Invisible Man Review: Whannell’s take on the titular horror icon is a modern psychological horror masterpiece
After Universal stumbled in bringing their classic monsters to big screen for their own Dark Universe, all eyes were on writer/director Leigh Whannell’s adaptation of the iconic Invisible Man to see if he could turn the tide. With Whannell’s strong horror pedigree, which includes co-creating Saw and making my favorite film of 2018 Upgrade, there were high expectations set for this new take on the iconic horror character.
Taking a more modern approach to The Invisible Man, Whannell’s version follows the story of Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), a woman who escapes her abusive relationship with Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) – a controlling, manipulative, and well-renowned optics scientist. After she escapes, she ends up staying in the care of a friend (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter (Storm Reid) and eventually finds out that Adrian has committed suicide and leaves her with a large sum of money. However, knowing what Adrian is like and strange coincidences turning personal, Cecilia not only comes to the conclusion that Adrian is not actually dead, but that he has also found a way to turn himself invisible in order to terrorize her without anyone else being able to see him. Now, Cecilia must find a way to prove that Adrian is invisibly abusing her before he enacts his real plan for Cecilia and destroys those around her.
What makes Whannell’s adaptation so strong is how he takes the concept of the Invisible Man and modernizes it to tell a compelling story about abuse. In a recent interview, Moss actually describes the film as a perfect analogy for gaslighting and abuse and she’s really right about that. From Cecilia struggling to make people believe that Adrian is still haunting her and Adrian’s actions making everyone believe that she is crazy, there’s a very strong story about abuse that viewers will connect with. Moss really evokes all of the Cecilia’s paranoia and internal struggles in a career-defining performance. Every ounce of dread, worry, misery, and mistrust that Cecilia feels hits viewers in the same way in large part to the dedication and raw emotion that Moss brings in every scene. It’s an excellent arc that takes Cecilia to the edge as she fights for any chance to prove that Adrian isn’t dead.
It’s even easier to sympathize with Cecilia’s struggles when you see how abusive and manipulative Adrian really is without you ever having to see him physically do anything. The way that Whannell’s characterizes Adrian is perfect as we really learn about him and his abusive behavior through how other people describe him. In describing him, Cecilia perfectly paints his narcissistic and controlling actions that dictated everything about her life in a grippingly real fashion and the only things that aren’t invisible are the emotional scars he’s left on her. Even the way his brother (Michael Dorman) is underlying terrified of him really leaves his mark on you and makes all of the actions he does against Cecilia while invisible feel incredibly personal and real. From ruining her relationship with her sister (Harriet Dyer) and Hodge’s James to messing with her by moving things and making other people think she’s crazy, his controlling behavior is plain to see and makes him a unique kind of horror villain.
I will say that the “big twist” that comes in the final act was a little strange for me in the moment and the “confirmation” that Cecilia finds in knowing that Adrian is behind everything was a little weak because it comes from a specific word. However, even with these issues the film does a great job showing how controlling Adrian truly is and it makes for a thrilling cat and mouse game between him and Cecelia. In some ways, you almost feel like you’re a third party in their abusive relationship as Whannell utilizes the more technical aspects of his filmmaking to suck viewers into his world.
Whannell immerses viewers into Cecilia’s sense of paranoia and worry with how he uses the camera and sound to make viewers wonder if she’s ever really alone. There’re times where the camera simply pans to an empty spot into the room or to an open doorway to make viewers question if someone else is in the room. Whannell also excellently uses great sound design to amplify viewers’ paranoia as they hear things like distant footstep or a soft voice to send chills down their spines. Right from the opening of Cecilia trying to quietly escape Adrian’s grasp, you can feel this suspense and tension that gives films like A Quiet Place a run for it’s money. Not to mention, the score from Benjamin Wallfisch is legitimately heart-pounding and makes you anxious as you watch everything unfold on-screen. Even the visuals of seeing footsteps suddenly appear and the Invisible Man suddenly appear when Cecilia uses things, like liquids, to reveal his presence.
With Upgrade, Whannell proved that he can create incredible fight sequences and with The Invisible Man he takes things to a whole new level. Seeing people actually have to go toe to toe with the Invisible Man is actually quite suspenseful as you can’t see his actions, so it looks like they’re fighting against nothing. The fight choreography is legitimately incredible and impressive, and a lot of credits has to go to all of the actors, especially Moss, for basically acting in fight scenes alone. One of the strongest aspects though is the look of the Invisible Man when he’s no longer invisible as it’s a really creepy, modern sci-fi look that’s simply intriguing. The technology aspects are simple and never over-explained and the overall look is just plain perfect with Adrian’s optic talents.
With The Invisible Man, Whannell updates a classic horror icon in nail-biting fashion with a perfectly modern story of abuse and suspenseful horror that Moss elevates every step of the way. From his incredible use of sound and paranoia to create palpable suspense to the surprises he’s kept hidden away, Whannell establishes himself as name to watch in horror and leaves viewers unable to stop looking over their shoulders.