Movies

Review: The Invisible Man

Elisabeth Moss in a very scary horror update.

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The original, 1933 version of The Invisible Man was the fourth of Universal's classic monster movies. (It had been preceded by Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy.) Its star, mostly hidden behind bandages and black sun goggles, was Claude Rains; the director, still hot from helming the wildly successful Frankenstein, was James Whale. But forget all that. A new Invisible Man now moves among us, and he's much, much scarier.

Some years back, the present-day Universal Pictures decided to unite all of its old monsters in a fake franchise called the Dark Universe. This ill-conceived project was strangled in its dark cradle by a critically disastrous 2017 remake of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise. So resounding was this bomb that Uni execs decided to deep-six the Dark Universe concept and just turn its next monster reboot over to people who knew what they were doing. This turned out to be, quite wisely, producer Jason Blum and the Australian writer-director Leigh Whannell, who'd had a long involvement with the Saw and Insidious movies, and, more pertinently, had also scripted and directed an excellent 2018 sci-fi film called Upgrade.

As you'd expect, Whannell's take on The Invisible Man bears only a glancing resemblance to the long-ago James Whale version. Now the title entity is basically a supporting character in a story focused on his wife—a sort of Bride of Invisible Man, you might say. The wife, Cecilia, is played by Elisabeth Moss, and she's in every scene, borne along on a storm cloud of paranoia and raging fury. This is not a MeToo movie, exactly—it's a full-on horror flick—but it's thoughtful and clever and it resonates with the current ascendancy of female concerns.

Cecilia is a onetime architect who has relinquished her career to attend to the batty demands of her husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who is ultra-controlling. They live in San Francisco, in an icily modern house with a basement laboratory where Adrian—a wealthy tech entrepreneur—pursues his experiments in the field of optics. After several years of marriage, Cecilia hates Adrian with a deep and unflagging passion, and as the movie opens we see her fleeing their home and being spirited away in a car by her sister, Alice (Harriet Dyer). This is a tense sequence, and it's punctuated by a really jolting, out-of-nowhere shock. Happily, things get much worse very quickly.

Two weeks later, we find Cecilia sheltering with an old friend named James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Then she learns that Adrian has committed suicide, and is informed by his creepy brother, Tom (Michael Dorman), that her late husband has left her $5-million, tax-free, to be dispensed in regular installments. Great. (Later, though, we learn there's a stipulation that the money spigot will be turned off if Cecilia ever loses her mind.)

Strange things start happening—small-scale at first: Cecilia leaves a frying pan on a burner when she walks out of the kitchen for a minute and we see that something is turning up the flame dangerously high in her absence. In the middle of the night, we see the blanket on the bed where she's sleeping being slowly pulled down. She hears a phone ringing—up in the attic. Cecilia tells James about these incidents and he tells her to stop acting weird.

The gaslighting continues, and Cecilia soon realizes that Adrian is responsible—he's somehow still alive. No one else believes this, of course, and the unseen husband proves devilishly clever at isolating her from everyone who might provide support.

I'll go no further into what transpires, apart from noting that the director's camera style—showing us widescreen views of spaces where nothing seems to be happening—has the effect of cranking up our anxiety as we wait for something awful to do so. There's also a great score, by Benjamin Wallfisch, which deploys steely, post-Hitchcock strings and what sounds like a host of metal locusts in an enveloping Dolby Atmos aural environment.

Best of all, there are no simpleminded jump scares in this movie—no cheap-thrill boo! effects. There are plenty of scares, and they'll likely make you jump (two of them are brilliantly horrific), but they arise naturally out of Whannell's story, which is constructed with a series of ingenious twists that keep coming at you right up to the end. For those who may have been waiting for a horror movie that really works you over, this is it.

NEXT: One Child Nation

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  1. This is not a MeToo movie, exactly—it’s a full-on horror flick—but it’s thoughtful and clever and it resonates with the current ascendancy of female concerns.

    Women are already inundated with men, the thought of them having to deal with invisible men is truly horrifying. I like Moss – I’ll go see this one.

    1. I hope Moss’s private life is happier than her on-screen one. Virtually everything she’s in involves her being oppressed in some way – often brutally so

      1. Not really, no. She married Fred Armisen (from SNL) and her marriage fell apart in less than two years. She’s a Scientologist and was raised in a family of musicians, and rarely does that bode well for a happy personal life.

        She’s a very good actress, though. Loved her in “Mad Men”…she did great things with the Peggy Olson character.

  2. “(Later, though, we learn there’s a stipulation that the money spigot will be turned off if Cecilia ever loses her mind.)”

    “That’s what we call the Sanity Clause.”

    “You can’t fool me – there ain’t no Sanity Clause.”

    1. Tim Allen should absolutely make that movie, the Santa Clause franchise could use it. That would be the one where they finally find a treatment that works, and he’s freed of his fantasy that he’s Santa Claus?

  3. “This is not a MeToo movie, exactly . . . but it’s thoughtful and clever and it resonates with the current ascendancy of female concerns.”
    Sounds “exactly” like a MeToo movie to me. The review may be accurate, but I’m not forking over my $ for tix and popcorn at the risk of two hours of bleating and finger-wagging – I get enough of that from everywhere.
    KL, I liked it better when you shat on every movie you reviewed. Blink twice if you’re under duress.

    1. Yeah, protesteth too much. “This is not a MeToo movie” means it’s a MeToo movie.

  4. A tech entrepreneur. Wow.

    1. the real invisibility experimenters are defense contractors

  5. This is not a MeToo movie, exactly—it’s a full-on horror flick

    Correct. It’s a social justice movie that intends to visualize the brutal oppression and gaslighting of women by the ever present, invisible, but old white male privilege! Oh the horror!

    but it’s thoughtful and clever

    It’s about as clever and subtle as a sledgehammer to the heads of male audience members.

    1. So you’ve seen it? Care to write a more in-depth review?

      1. Kurt, is that you?

      2. do you doubt he’s wrong?

  6. Thanks for this review.

    Reading the header… “a very scary horror update” made me think “hey, I’ll take the wife for date night!”

    Then I read on. Yeah, not date night material. Thanks for the heads up.

  7. I think I’ll just watch Abbot and Costello meet the invisable man.

  8. “Have you seen The Invisible Man?”

    “Duh, of course not!”

    1. I met a man who wasn’t there

      Yesterday, upon the stair,
      I met a man who wasn’t there
      He wasn’t there again today
      I wish, I wish he’d go away…

      When I came home last night at three
      The man was waiting there for me
      But when I looked around the hall
      I couldn’t see him there at all!
      Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
      Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door… (slam!)

      Last night I saw upon the stair
      A little man who wasn’t there
      He wasn’t there again today
      Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

  9. Here’s one for the legal eagles at Volokh: Can the invisible man be prosecuted for indecent exposure if he’s naked? I mean, he’s got his junk exposed, but if nobody can see it…

    1. It seems obvious to me, he may be indecent and acting lewd, but by definition and invisible man is not exposed.

    2. “he’s got his junk exposed, but if nobody can see it.” ???
      He made himself invisible, hiding his junk, like people who hide their junk with cloths.

      1. Ah, but check out New York’s law:

        “A person is guilty of exposure if he appears in a public place in such a manner that the private or intimate parts of his body are unclothed or exposed.”

        https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/penal-law/pen-sect-245-01.html

        Well, when he’s prancing about naked the Invisible Man is “unclothed,” and that should be enough to convict under the penal* law.

        *Huh-huh, penal

        1. I believe “if he appears” would be the key phrase, here.

    3. And if you’re naked in front of blind people, is that indecent exposure?

  10. Did you ever hear of Whale’s unproduced monster movie, The Curse of the Christus? Maybe it’ll get finished sometime soon.

  11. I hate horror movies but I’ll take a chance on this one because of the review. I loved the “Alien” and “Predator” series because they were well written, directed, and didn’t use cheap tricks.

    1. Cheap tricks like “it was just the cat”?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WAV9tAgKlI

  12. Nah, I already saw the Democratic Convention. There was enough horror there to make me happy for some years.

  13. The review was great as usual, but the trailer broke records for the number of commercial interruptions. I gave up on it.

  14. Hollow Man was way better — Elisabeth Shue.

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