After the disaster that was the 2017 version of The Mummy, there was a question as to what Universal would do with their classic monsters. Would they continue with the Dark Universe or abandon it. Universal decided to abandon the Dark Universe, going in the opposite direction, working with Blumhouse to make lower budget straight up horror versions of the classic monsters. The first of these is Leigh Wannell’s The Invisible Man and is a great showcase of how the Universal monsters can be updated for modern horror sensibilities.
The film follows Cecilia Kass, who has escaped an abusive relationship with optics expert Adrian Griffin. The news comes that Griffin has killed himself and left Cecilia a large portion of his fortune, on condition of her not committing any crime. However, soon Cecilia notices strange events happening around her and starts to believe that Griffin is actually alive and has used his expertise in optics to turn himself invisible and has to try and convince everyone around her that she is being stalked by Griffin. Now the main element that this film goes for in reinventing the story of The Invisible Man is to place the focus not on the person who turns invisible but on their victim. The script focuses on the long term trauma that Cecilia faces from an abusive relationship and how her recovery is destroyed by Griffin. Whilst we don’t see much of Griffin on screen, through Elisabeth Moss’ acting and the script, we know exactly how awful a person he is and the damage he has done to Cecilia, to the point that when she escapes Griffin at the start of the film she can’t even go outside for 2 weeks. Everything that Griffin does in the film serves to gaslight Cecilia and make her question her own sanity to try and force her back to Griffin. This makes this reinvention of the Universal Monster work as it is a more realistic monster and it does not shy away from the horrors of abusive relationships.
The performances as well are great, with Elisabeth Moss giving a tour de force performance as Cecilia. It’s quite a hard performance to talk about as, a lot of the time, Moss is reacting to something that the audience cannot see, but she does a great job at showing the psychological trauma that the character feels as a result of the abusive relationship. As we see Cecilia start to recover, before Griffin comes back, she shows how even something like getting the mail is a milestone in overcoming her fears and, as Griffin destroys her support system, she sells the isolation that Cecilia feels, and the feeling of fear that this is what Adrian wants. It does feel like a realistic portrayal of someone escaping an abusive relationship and helps to anchor the film. The rest of the performances, from Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Storm Reid, Aldis Hodge, Harriet Dyer and Michael Dorman, are all great as well, but Moss is the clear standout.
The technical elements of the film are well handled as well. You can feel the experience Leigh Whannell has in horror in his direction, avoiding cheap jump scares for the most part, his horror relying on an oppressive atmosphere throughout. This works well in putting the audience in the mindset of Cecilia and this atmosphere creates tension as you’re never sure if there is anyone else in the scene. The sound design adds to this feeling as well. Whenever there is someone else on screen that you can’t see there’s a distinctive sound that plays, kind of like a faint clicking, loud enough so the audience can hear it, but quiet enough so that you’re not sure that you heard it, if that makes sense. Every piece of design in the film works in building atmosphere and creates some great moments of horror throughout the film.
Overall, The Invisible Man is an incredibly effective piece of horror that works in modernising the Universal monsters by giving them new relevance. By putting the focus of the version of The Invisible Man on the angle of domestic abuse, Leigh Whannell creates a tense, disturbing version of this story, knowing exactly how to build tension throughout the film, with Elisabeth Moss’ performance helping to add to the horror. If this is how the Universal monsters and going to be adapted now, then I’m eagerly awaiting more.
My Rating: 4.5/5