A little backstory on my history with invisible men on screen: it’s a shameful admission, but I’ve never seen the 1933 Universal Classic Monsters classic The Invisible Man directed by James Whale and starring Claude Rains. My only treks through cinematic translucence prior to seeing writer/director Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man were John Carpenter’s 1992 Chevy Chase-fronted flop Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Paul Verhoeven’s uber-rapey 2000 Kevin Bacon vehicle Hollow Man – neither of which I especially cared for. All that said, I was pretty stoked for Whannell’s take on the material.
I have a mixed history with Whannell’s output. I didn’t dig Saw (which he wrote and co-starred in) in the slightest. Dead Silence, which he wrote, was a dud. I haven’t seen a single Insidious (he’s acted in and written every installment and made his directorial debut on Chapter 3). What upgraded Whannell in my estimation was his 2018 action/body horror picture, Upgrade, which played like a hybrid of Carpenter and Verhoeven and sported a gamely fun lead performance from Logan Marshall-Green AKA Baby Tom Hardy. Whannell teamed with producer du jour Jason Blum on that picture and reteams with him here. Upgrade sported a meager 5 million USD budget; The Invisible Man a modest $9 million one. While I think Whannell stretched those bucks a little further on Upgrade – it’s gorier and more kinetic – it’s evident that he’s putting every red cent on screen in both instances.
The Invisible Man focuses primarily upon Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss), an architect who puts her professional life on hold to engage in a relationship with Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Adrian has made a fortune at the forefront of the optics industry, lives in a bitchin’ beachside mansion and is a controlling, abusive, gaslighting douche. Having tired of Adrian’s behavior, Cecelia seeks escape. Assisting her in this pursuit are her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), childhood friend-turned-cop, James (Aldis Hodge) and James’ daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid of HBO’s Euphoria). In wake of Cecelia’s departure Adrian offs himself and leaves her $5 million (She could have funded Upgrade!) in a trust being doled out by his lawyer brother, Tom (Michael Dorman). The trust is contingent upon her having no criminal record and being deemed mentally sane. A bunch of sideways shit transpires from there bringing those qualifiers into question.
Moss is an incredibly talented actress (mostly by reputation as I haven’t watched Mad Men, Top of the Lake or The Handmaid’s Tale) and is great here, but for whatever reason I don’t totally dig her. Maybe it’s the Scientology? Maybe it’s that her face often seems to suggest that she’s just farted or smelled someone else’s fart? I also probably shouldn’t rip on an actress’ appearance in what’s essentially a #MeToo sci-fi/horror flick, but I keeps it real. I really liked Hodge in the flick and always enjoy seeing him in things because whether he’s playing MC Ren in Straight Outta Compton or a police officer as he does here I’ll always remember him from his cinematic debut as one of Samuel L. Jackson’s nephews in Die Hard with a Vengeance.
The Invisible Man sheds light upon some important issues and could very well be empowering to female audience members. Some might argue that it’s a bit tasteless to tackle such weighty subject matter in what’s essentially genre drivel, but I don’t think that’s the case. The picture’s a bit overlong at 124 minutes, but I think its length is mostly in service of building tension. Whannell and his Upgrade cinematographer Stefan Duscio often employ long, lingering shots and inventive compositions to further the frights. The Invisible Man engages in horror in the early goings before devolving into action later on, which might be a turnoff to some viewers. That said, it’s a worthy enough genre entry that I’d recommend seeing it on the big screen before it disappears from theaters.