The Invisible Man (2020)


Universal Pictures, every now and then, remembers what their big legacy is.  They produced many great features throughout the Gold and Silver ages of Hollywood, but what they are most remembered for are their horror films. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and many others - including The Invisible Man.  

The problem is Universal has never been sure what to do with these characters.  The original writers and directors had a singular vision, but the only thing a movie studio visualizes are dollar signs.  Unfortunately, that meant bringing the creatures back over and over to the point where it was self parody and then, after surprise success with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, actual parody.  The only studio that knew what to do with any of this was Hammer and, although they pretty much beat them into the ground as well, they still kept it generally entertaining.

There have been other attempts to revive these, from high-class attempts like Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula and Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  There have been ridiculous cash grabs like I, Frankenstein.  Universal's most recent attempt to revive their menagerie came after Dracula Untold, another thinly-plotted PG-13 effects-heavy horror film, failed miserably.  With Star Wars, Harry Potter, Marvel and DC all having varying degrees of success with their cinematic universes, why not the Dark Universe?  Forgetting they already did a perfectly good remake of The Mummy in the 1990s, Universal produced a thinly-plotted, PG-13 effects-heavy version with Tom Cruise.  It also failed miserably, taking with it all the plans for the movies that were to be made afterward.

One of these, of course, was The Invisible Man.  For whatever reason - and it could very well be dealing not only with Universal, but with the H. G. Wells estate - Hammer never made a version of that movie.  The original series petered out in the 1940s before he appeared again with Abbott and Costello, and from then on (except for a television series) it was peripheral material like Memoirs of an Invisible Man or Hollow Man.  Still, after a few years in limbo, director Leigh Whannell was brought in by Universal to make a new version.

Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) is a woman being held prisoner by her abusive, controlling husband Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).  He is a renowned scientist in optics, making him extremely rich, which also makes him quite dangerous.  After her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) aids in the escape, she begins recovering in the home of a police officer friend named James (Aldis Hodge), who lives with his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid).  Constantly frightened that Adrian is coming after her, Cecilia has trouble even leaving the house.  However, she soon receives word that Adrian has committed suicide and left her a healthy some in his will - a will his brother Tom (Michael Dorman) declines to contest. 

Initially elated, Cecilia becomes suspicious when small things begin to go awry.  Knowing that Adrian was working on various projects, and sensing that she is being followed wherever she goes, Cecilia begins to believe that he faked his death and is stalking her.  Although no one believes her, it soon becomes apparent that she is right, as he goes about isolating her from her sister and James, making her behavior seem erratic and going so far as to frame her for murder.  Left on her own, Cecilia must fight back and not only prove that she is telling the truth, but also erase Adrian from her life for good. 

I went into this film expecting it to be agenda driven.  I think that is partially because Blumhouse is behind this and too often many of their movies, like Black Christmas, are so heavily concerned with pushing modern leftwing politics that they forget to be entertaining.  Since Elisabeth Moss is also the star and face of the television adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale, I thought I was in for one of those movies where every single man was stupid, violent and generally a knuckle-dragger, with a good dose of Bible thumping thrown on top.  

Luckily, that is not where Leigh Whannell was headed with this.  The premise itself obviously has an important subtext that women are often not believed when they should be, but The Invisible Man is more interested in engaging the audience in sharing Cecilia's fear, never being sure where Adrian is on the screen or if he is even there.  Like in the original two movies Oliver Jackson-Cohen is barely seen.  Unlike the original, he doesn't spend his time playing silly pranks or setting himself up as some God-king, but rather to punish Cecilia for leaving him.  Not only is he rarely seen, but rarely heard as well.  What Whannell does is leave plenty of open space in shots, often doing long static shots of rooms, and filming more empty space than normally would appear on camera.  According to him, and Jackson-Cohen, there are a number of those shots where Adrian actually there, while many where he wasn't. 

That atmosphere works for a while, but the problems come when Adrian decides to amp things up.  There are a couple scenes early on where it takes a leap of imagination - at one point she is at least three to five feet away from the person she is supposed to have hit - to think anyone would interpret that she is responsible unless she has suddenly become a female Flash.  In contrast, the scene where she is framed for murder works on the fact that no one observes what really happens, but just infers afterwards.  The movie is slightly over two hours long and, although it is engaging throughout most of its runtime, especially when establishing the danger Cecilia is in, it feels contrived in how it gets through its middle portion in order to reach a number of twists and events that truly makes the buildup of the first third pay off. 

Moss does a wonderful job as an abused woman slowly regaining her sense of self, while Harriet Dyer is in the movie for too short a period.  There is obviously some history between the sisters that parallels the relationship between Adrian and Tom, and probably some of that history resulted in Cecilia sticking around as things got worse.  Aldis Hodge's James is a nice contrast to the other two, being a man who actually cares for what Cecilia has been through and being there to help her.  If this truly was an agenda-driven movie he would have most likely been dumbed down, feminized or shown to be corrupt, anything to punish him for being male and a cop.  

That is why I hate having to hear so much noise these days from both sides of the political spectrum.  Whether I pay attention or not it seems to still taint my expectations going into a lot of movies, and it doesn't help that too many films are trying to push their liberal or conservative beliefs on audiences.  If I solely paid attention to the noise I would have missed out.  I'm really not concerned that this, other than the bad guy having the last name Griffin and being invisible, has pretty much nothing to do with the 1933 film or Wells's novel.  Even if the movie could have been 20 minutes shorter and a little less clunky in the middle, it still manages to drum up a fair amount of tension throughout and provide a satisfying ending.  

The Invisible Man (2020)
Time: 124 minutes
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Harriet Dyer
Director: Leigh Whannell

 

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