Like the Joker rising from the flailing DCEU, The Invisible Man is a surprising turn of events.
After escaping a life living with her abuser, Cecilia tries to go back to living a normal life. Yet even after the news of his death, she can’t quite accept that he is gone. Is it the trauma, or something else?
It was only three years ago, but it is very likely that audiences have mostly forgotten about 2017’s The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise. Probably because the film bombed spectacularly at the box office despite Cruise’s name attached to it, and so spectacularly that it ended Universal Studio’s planned “expanded monster universe”. In an attempt to parallel the Marvel/Disney machine’s MCU, Universal looked at their stock of classic monsters, namely: Dr. Jekyll, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, and… The Invisible Man, with money in their eyes. A team-up storyline was developed, with stars cherry picked for the roles and expensive sets made as investments.
Within a year of The Mummy’s release, those sets were sold for scrap, and all references to The Dark Universe erased.
Now, in 2020, we get a potential sleeper hit The Invisible Man, advertised justly as a realistic and thematic thriller, combining the titular monster with the very real themes of domestic abuse. You could say this is as far flung from the action-packed “Tom Cruise-hanging-off-an-airplane” extravaganza from 2017.
For any audiences somehow still enamoured with that film, do not expect the same fare.
The Invisible Man comes to us from the director of Upgrade, an underrated sci-fi movie, Leigh Whannell, and depicts a very stark contrast to the big budget blockbusters Universal was probably intending three years ago. The film’s tone is sombre and full of anxiety; we open with Cecilia, played expertly by Elizabeth Moss (from television’s A Handmaiden’s Tale) escaping a life of domestic imprisonment by a man who… conveniently enough… is an extremely rich man and a pioneer in optic technology.
The film then goes about showing us Cecilia’s support group, and the budding relationships with each of them; from the father and daughter she lives with (Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid, who are also both excellent in their roles) and her sister. This, and Cecilia’s inability to cope with past trauma.
The use of the real omnipresent fear that such a trauma presents, mixed with the potential for an actual invisible man, is a great mix. The tension can build incredibly well here. The film certainly starts strong, and mostly continues to be very capable.
When things take a turn for the surreal, the film begins to throw some twists and red herrings your way, which is a welcome adjustment as it stops the audience predicting everything to come. The take on the title monster is modernised, but not unreasonably (one could even see this idea being the only survivor from the Monsterverse concept) and the monster is very much a human monster; the theme of control, mixed into the relationship of abuse, is heavily present throughout the movie, even after it takes the turn for surrealism.
All of the performances are extremely capable and genuine. The themes used and the pacing of the film are excellent; it did not feel skewed, too long or too short. Apart from an eye-rolling first jump-scare, the film is very well made in the development of tension and surprises. Luckily, after that first generic jump-scare, things smooth out to a compelling, seething dread.
Despite the title basically giving the intentions away, and Universal’s background for remaking their classic monsters, the only real issue here is the immediacy of evidence showing an invisible man is present. While it is cleverly done; a knife magically shifting on a table, or breath on the cold air, there could have been a little more time dedicated to the post trauma ambiguity for the audience.
But this issue is relatively minor; the second and third acts are filled with terrible and shocking moments that put the audience right on the side of Cecilia, pleading for things to improve for her…
Overall, The Invisible Man was shockingly good. It may not make the money Universal might want, but this is exactly the sort of revival their classic monsters need. Tense, unsettling and real movies.