Sixteen years ago Saw came out and two Australian filmmakers were catapulted to success. James Wan is probably the more recognized of the pair, but Leigh Whannell has always fascinated me. Having worked as a writer/actor predominantly he got his chance to shine as a director with Insidious: Chapter 3. It was a solid sequel that proved his skill behind the camera, but then came Upgrade. This showed us the guy knew how to craft a whiz-bang film that’s a blast to watch. With the Dark Universe getting re- tooled after every misfire produced I was ready to give up. Thankfully Whannell, using limited resources, crafts an unnerving and effective thriller outdoing any bombastic 100 million dollar tentpole. Could The Invisible Man be a step in the right direction for the famous Universal Monsters?
“He said that wherever I went, he would find me, walk right up to me, and I wouldn’t be able to see him.”
Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) has finally found a sliver of peace after escaping the clutches of her abusive boyfriend/scientist Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Her relieve is short-lived when she receives word that Adrian has killed himself and left her a sizable inheritance with a few stipulations (i.e. she can not commit a crime or be declared legally insane). Cecilia refuses to believe Adrian would kill himself. Her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and close friend James (Aldis Hodge) assure her she has nothing to worry about, but things begin to occur that drive Cecilia to her wits end. As she unravels a sinister plot people begin to question if she has lost her grip on reality.
This is a pretty interesting way to put a new spin on H.G. Wells classic. There have been more than a few films that delved into the question of what a person would do when given the power of invisibility. And there is something downright nefarious about the very personal nature of Adrian’s torture. Not only is he physically assaulting people, but driving Cecilia to her wits end is chilling. Whannell knows how to use less in a scene to illicit some fantastic tension. As Cecilia descends into madness we’re forced to take the ride and it’s not easy.
“He has figured out a way to be invisible.”
On the other side of the coin is Elisabeth Moss. She does a fantastic job selling every scene where she’s acting opposite thin air and noise. From the opening escaping scene through her mental unspooling you are with her feeling the frustration and anxiety. No one is willing to believe her possibly insane theory. And with that opposition she gives one hundred percent. It’s a shame that acting in horror films is often considered inferior to other genres. I think more would be willing to give The Invisible Man a shot if they knew just how good the central performance truly is.
This leads to a major drawback for the rest of the cast. Jackson-Cohen does as much as he can with his meager screen time setting up Adrian’s twisted frame of mind. It’s one of the few times where less is definitely more. But everyone else is stuck in trope land. Hodge and Dyer basically spend most of their time giving apprehensive reactions to Moss. I wish the story could’ve delved deeper into how her relationship with Adrian fractured these personal connections. Storm Reid doesn’t get much to do as James’ daughter aside from being a damsel in distress at the end. There was also something quite fascinating about Tom (Michael Dorman) as Adrian’s brother and attorney that was hinted at, but never fully came to fruition. I would’ve been intrigued to see more from their toxic relationship and how it shaped the character.
“He’s sitting in that chair.”
Minor quibbles aside; Leigh Whannell has done what three blockbuster films could not. It took a known Universal Monster property, updated it for a modern audience, honored its source material, and made a good film. I can only hope that Whannell’s new deal with Blumhouse will bring about more great work from the man. The Invisible Man is a recommend.
Overall Score: 4/5