THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) is a clever and creative re-imagining of the Invisible Man tale, of both the classic Universal Invisible Man movies, and of H.G. Wells’ famous novel, on which all of these movies are based.
Writer/director Leigh Whannell changes the focus of the story and places it on a young woman Cecilia “Cece” Kass (Elisabeth Moss) who is trapped in an abusive relationship which only gets worse when her husband fakes his own death and makes himself invisible, giving him unlimited power to torment her relentlessly. It adds a whole new layer to the story and gives new meaning to “he said, she said,” since obviously no one believes her story.
My only question when all was said and done was why? Why go through all the trouble of faking your own death and making yourself invisible if your only goal was to torture your wife? The movie does give a reason for his motives, but it still doesn’t change the fact that this is an incredibly convoluted way of getting what he wants.
When THE INVISIBLE MAN opens, a frightened Cece escapes from her abusive husband Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and is whisked away to safety by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer). Cece is so fearful of Adrian, that even when she is staying with Emily’s friend James (Aldis Hodge) who’s a cop, and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid) she can’t bring herself to step out of the house, terrified that her husband will find her.
But a short time later, the news breaks that Adrian committed suicide, which strikes Cece as odd since he was always in control, and taking his own life would be the last thing she’d expect him to do. Anyway, he leaves her a ton of money, and all seems well, until Cece begins to feel his presence around her, and then strange things begin to happen.
Cece becomes convinced that Adrian faked his own death and has found a way to become invisible. Of course, her story is completely unbelievable and makes her sound crazy, as if Adrian got inside her head and scarred her so badly that she’s now having delusions that he’s still alive. So, she sets out to prove she’s right, but before she can do so, there’s a vicious murder and when she is seen with the bloody knife in hand, her defense that it was an invisible man and not her, all but seals her fate.
I really liked this new version of THE INVISIBLE MAN. It’s smart and scary and provides a fresh new way of telling the story. The only thing I didn’t like, as I already said, is I thought the plot was a bit too contrived. Why a man would go to all this trouble to get what he ultimately wants is a head scratcher. There are far easier ways to get the same result.
Still, the screenplay by Leigh Whannell is a good one. Whannell, who wrote the SAW movies and the INSIDIOUS films, has written his most ambitious screenplay yet with THE INVISIBLE MAN. Making it a story about an abused wife living in horrific fear of her abuser husband adds an entirely different element to the tale and makes it that much scarier.
Speaking of which, that’s one of my favorite parts of THE INVISIBLE MAN, that the film is scary. While I’ve enjoyed Leigh Whannell’s screenplays, I did not enjoy his directorial debut with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015), the first film in the INSIDIOUS series that I didn’t really like. But he more than makes up for it here with THE INVISIBLE MAN.
I don’t get scared easily at the movies, but there are a couple of scenes in this one which made me jump. There’s a nice contrast between silence and noise here. When Cece senses something is wrong, it’s dead silent. She feels someone in the room with her but she can’t see him, and so she keeps perfectly still, relying on her other senses, hearing and smell, and so you have scenes that go from silence to terror, and they really work.
The underlying theme of the entire movie, the abused wife, keeps the audience unsettled throughout and enhances the traditional horror movie elements, which also work really well.
I wish the movie had played up the plot point of whether or not the invisible man is real, or is Cece just going psycho? I found this aspect of the story fascinating, but the film only flirts with this for a while before making it clear that yup, there’s an invisible guy on the loose.
I’ve been a fan of Elisabeth Moss since her days on MAD MEN (2007-15), and of course she now stars in THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017-2020). She’s excellent here as the tormented Cece. The film is mostly about her, and Moss is convincing throughout. She does ask a question which also unfortunately remains unanswered, when she asks Adrian, “Why me?” He could have had any woman in the world. Why was he obsessed with her? The film doesn’t really provide an answer, which is one of the weaknesses of the movie.
The Invisible Man himself Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) isn’t developed at all. We know little about him. He just comes off as a jerk who happens to be a genius. In a way, this makes sense. Do we really want a back story for vicious wife abuser? Not really. But compared to Claude Rains in the original THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) who stole that movie with his crazed voice in spite of never being seen since he was invisible, Oliver Jackson-Cohen is barely a blip on the monster meter. Jackson-Cohen was much more memorable as troubled brother Luke on the Netflix series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018-2020).
Strangely, more villainous here is Adrian’s brother Tom, played with weasel-like coldness by Michael Dorman.
It’s worth noting that Leigh Whannell kept the name Griffin for the Invisible Man, which hearkens back to H.G. Wells’ novel and the classic Universal Invisible Man movies of the 1930s and 1940s.
Aldis Hodge is excellent as police detective James Lanier, as is Harriet Dyer as Cece’s sister Emily. Storm Reid is also very good as James’ daughter Sydney.
The film also has a menacingly powerful music score by Benjamin Wallfisch, which really adds a lot to the tension in the story.
THE INVISIBLE MAN is a successful re-imagining of the Invisible Man story that adds layers and depth not present in previous tellings. That being said, it doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny, as it never convincingly makes its case for the reasons its main villain takes such a convoluted route to achieve his goal, but if you can look past this, you’ll enjoy this frightening new take on a classic science fiction horror tale.