Of all the classic Universal Monster movies, The Invisible Man is debatably the most terrifying. Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolfman are prey to thier own ghastly conditions, often painted as sympathetic figures. The Invisible Man however, based on the seminal sci-fi novel by H.G.Wells, is a different matter altogether. His discovery of an invisibility serum marks him a genius but the freedom it brings quickly pushes him to megalomania and crime, because why not? At the height of his mania, Griffin unleashes a campaign of terror against the world, deciding to kill rich, poor, royalty, and paupers, purely to prove that he can kill anyone he likes and has no prejudices. Liegh Whannel’s adaptation takes a different and altogether more era-sensitive direction but maintains the horrifying megalomania at the heart of the original.
Opening with a daring escape, The Invisible Man introduces Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), a resourceful but terrified woman who slips out on her partner in the dead of night. A few days later, from the safety of a friend’s home, she finds out her boyfriend has committed suicide and left everything to her. Only, strange things start to happen; things move around the house and Cecilia swears she can feel a presence following her.
Like Paul Verhoeven before him, whose psychosexual thriller Hollow Man found fertile chills in the sexually predatory behaviour of an invisible perv, Whannel sees far worse modus operandi for his titular villain than murder and mayhem. In this adaptation, Griffin is an abusive control freak whose optical ingenuity essentially helps him victimise a woman who just wants to leave him. In the age of #metoo and the prevalence of conversations about systematic gender inequality, The Invisible Man strikes gold because it’s all so terrifyingly believable.
Moss delivers a career best as the relatable but nerve-shredded Cecilia. We never need flashbacks because she carries the weight of that abuse in every single facial tick and “paranoid” action. Its incredible just how much a part Moss plays in the conjuring of the villain. Some criticism could be levelled at the lack of depth to the domestic abuse angle, since it’s more of a dressing for the update, as opposed to any clear dialogue on abuse, gaslighting, and treatment of women. Better to think of The Invisible Man as a very modern exploitation film told with a masterful and technically pristine control of the cinematic process. In any eventually, its thrills and frights are undeniably effective.
The cameramen along with cinematographer Stefan Duscio deserve more credit than actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen himself for the perfection of villainy. Before we’re ever really sure if Griffin is alive or not, the camera work carves a character from empty space. Shots will keep Moss front and centre, then slowly slide to the side and let the audience conjure up the character for themselves. It’s truly some Dean Cundey Halloween-level camera work, with the Invisible Man’s presence being as pervasive and relentless as classic bogeyman Michael Myers. The likeness isn’t too far off either since The Invisible Man shares some tropes with the classics of slasher cinema: its gore is minimal, but the violence is often visceral.
Not only is this the most cinematically accomplished film of Whannel’s career, but also the scariest most emotionally wrought film he’s ever made. The trajectory of his career, not to mention this potential franchise, has never been so exciting.
Dir. Leigh Whannell
Stars. Elisabeth Moss, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen