By Hector Valverde
Ah, the Dark Universe. Universal Pictures’ disastrous attempts to launch a modern interconnected horror franchise with Dracula Untold and The Mummy (2017) will forever go down as one of the most dunkable failures in recent movie history. Well, the third time’s the charm, I guess, because Leigh Whannell and Blumhouse Productions may have just paved another way forward with their inspired reimagining of The Invisible Man.
Ditching the material of H.G. Wells’ novel and its classic (?) 1933 adaption, this new tale of transparent terror opens to a panicked woman, Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss), running away from her billionaire boyfriend, Adrian, after years of psychological manipulation and abuse. Just as she’s beginning to recover from their traumatic relationship, Cecilia receives news of Adrian’s suicide, along with a $5 million parting gift from him. Though initially eager to move on with her life free from his controlling grasp, uncomfortable bumps in the night leave Cecilia convinced that Adrian’s not only still alive but tormenting her in a newly invisible form.
Along with a riveting score from Benjamin Wallfisch, Whannell breathes new life into this reboot with clever writing and directing that always keeps you at edge. Elizabeth Moss’ raw, all-in performance would be enough to carry the film’s spooky conceit in its own right (Aldis Hodge also kills it in a warm, charismatic supporting role). Still, Whannell takes it a step further by wickedly manipulating his audience’s perception of the events onscreen.
Excessive empty space envelops each frame as if to taunt you, filling the screen with an unnerving presence that extends the film’s thrills into a personally-involving nightmare. Turning The Invisible Man into a story about gaslighting was a genius move on Whannell’s part. Though a little modern horror rote at times, his directing worked so well on me I was frequently questioning my and Cecilia’s sanity as the film progressed.
That being said, the narrative lacks that extra insightful thematic touch in the screenplay to push the film beyond a surface level reading. Nothing about gaslighting, abuse, or their toll on the victim and assailant’s psyches is really said beyond the obvious, which is a shame given how openly the material lends itself to be thoughtfully expanded upon. As a simple horror movie, it more than works, but you can’t help but think about how much more The Invisible Man could have been with a little more substance put in.
Additionally, the film slightly screws itself over with an unneeded fourth act/epilogue that carries on well after it reaches its satisfying and logical conclusion. The ending felt like it undid the one bit of narrative substance it earned with a supporting character in the back and, to say the least, left a bad taste in my mouth in how it treated Cecilia.
Inventively written and directed by Leigh Whannell, the high quality of The Invisible Man makes for a solid standalone monster movie with a promising future ahead of it. With bated breath, we’ll see.