|Synopsis||When a woman finds out her abusive ex has died and surprisingly inherits his fortune, she begins to suspect that not everything is as it seems, paranoid that she is still within his dangerous grasp.|
|Length||2 hours, 4 minutes|
|Release Date||February 28, 2020|
|Starring||Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman|
There was a time when Hollywood studios wanted to copy Marvel’s success and create their own form of cinematic universe. Though none spectacularly failed harder than Universal’s attempt at the “Dark Universe”. Pulling from their collection of classic monsters, they sought to reboot Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Only two from the list were made as part of the project, with both making a pittance at the box office.
Yet Leigh Whannell saw potential where others did not. The idea of linking every monster together may have failed, but there was still much to explore with these characters at an individual level. If anyone had a chance at revitalizing stuffy monsters from yesteryear, then it would be the writer that penned two of the most successful horror franchises of recent times (Saw and Sinister) and the director of the ever-so-brilliant film, Upgrade (which I always recommend whenever given the chance because it’s so criminally overlooked). Not boxed in by Universal’s demands for an extended universe, an inspired Whannell was able to take an antiquated character and look at it through fresh eyes, finally producing an adaption fit for modern audiences.
Violence/Scary Images: This is a horror film, so it intends on scaring the audience throughout its runtime. There are multiple instances where characters are assaulted by, well, an invisible man. Throats are slit, heads are bashed, a taser is used, and gunshot wounds are seen on camera. The entire context of the story is set within an abusive relationship. A character tries to cut their own wrist. Blood is seen spurting from wounds, gushing and pooling on the floor around dying bodies, although the level of gore is consistent with the injures and is not excessive. There is a car crash. There is a kitchen fire. This film is said to trigger those suffering from trypophobia.
Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb and its variations are dropped a number of times, though it’s still at a rare rate during the runtime.
Drug/Alcohol References: Champagne is consumed in a social setting, and characters report suffering a hangover later on. Diazepam is used several times to drug other characters without their consent.
Sexual Content: The film centers around an abusive relationship. It is strongly hinted that prior to the events in the film, the main female protagonist was sexually assaulted, or at the very least did not give consent to intercourse that didn’t involve the use of contraception. Abortion is discussed as an option.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Content: This film also portrays the other negative, more psychological impacts of domestic violence, including but not limited to gaslighting and extremely controlling behaviors.
Positive Content: While The Invisible Man is a commercialized horror film, many victims of domestic violence may find it to be an apt representation of their trauma, turning the movie into a tool for communication regarding those feelings.
When people talk about superpowers and what one they wished they had, for whatever reason invisibility is always at the forefront of potential choices, alongside telekinesis, flight, strength, and teleportation (with the latter being the most useful, in my most humble opinion). It’s barely “seen” in pop culture, and yet it’s still considered to be one of the staple powers. Turning invisible—that can be cool, right? Though during a standard “What superpower would you pick?” discussion with my brother many years ago, he challenged the idea when he pointed out that invisibility really served no purpose unless you wanted to commit illegal activities.
In many ways, he’s not wrong. Things like robbing a bank and, sadly, perving on others is commonly cited as uses for the power. Yet invisibility takes on a different nuance when a woman wields it. Ask an overworked mother of several young children (and pets) and she may cynically admit she’d end up using invisibility more often as a way of obtaining alone time in the bathroom as opposed to achieving any nefarious schemes. Or it might give a woman the confidence to go on walks at night, visit dangerous places or to simply sit undisturbed at a bar alone. It becomes more of a defensive mechanism, a shield of safety, as opposed to being a tool for sinister goals.
These subtle differences are also reflected in superhero narratives. When invisibility is not used purely as a gag (unlike Mystery Men and Deadpool 2) it tends to either be an analogy for self-consciousness/shyness (Fantastic 4, The Incredibles) or it takes on a more predatory nature (Hollow Man) with the latter approach being more popular with male characters.
Most of those examples cited originate from H. G. Wells’ science fiction novel, The Invisible Man—an iconic figure in the horror genre and one of the “old timey” Hollywood boogeymen of yesteryear. Though unlike other popular characters such as Dracula, the Invisible Man hasn’t been adapted for the silver screen too many times due to a number of inherent issues. Aside from the simple fact that invisibility isn’t exactly compelling in a visual medium, the narrative practically demands an awkward shift in protagonist in order for the film to work.
The traditional story is fairly straightforward; a scientist discovers how to make himself invisible only to later go insane. The audience connects to the scientist in the opening act, but they become more and more distanced as the character grows increasingly unlikeable. How can the director maintain the viewer’s empathy when the protagonist cannot be seen (and cannot emote normally) and commits atrocious acts of violence? The story also lends itself to some exploitative filmmaking; it shows the horror of the protagonist stalking and perving on women by letting the camera essentially do the same thing.
It seems so obvious how to solve this narrative problem now that Leigh Whannell’s film adaptation exists. In an inspired move, he shifted the focus of the story from the titular Invisible Man and instead told it from the perspective of a female victim, Cecilia, portrayed wonderfully by the always-talented Elisabeth Moss. As such, 2020’s The Invisible Man ends up working as a twisted allegory for domestic violence, portraying the paranoia, gaslighting, the isolation from support networks, and psychological abuse typically experienced by victims.
What’s interesting is at the start of the film Cecilia would’ve loved to able to turn invisible. She goes to great lengths to not draw any attention to herself, retreating from the public entirely. The anonymity that Cecilia desires is instead used as a weapon by her abuser. Aside from a broken window, at the beginning the audience doesn’t witness the full extent of Adrian’s abuse and is left to assume the credibility of Cecilia’s story purely from her taut reactions displayed in a fantastically suspenseful opening act helmed by Whannell. From then on she is haunted by Adrian, where even though he may not physically be there, his presence is always felt regardless.
It’s critically important for the audience to connect with Cecilia’s heightened mindset. Without it, The Invisible Man could’ve easily fallen into comedic territory given how many random cutaways to inanimate objects are littered throughout the film. Thanks to Moss’ acting chops and Whannell’s expertise, long shots of empty chairs have never been so terrifying. Is Adrian there? Or is he not? The line of questioning becomes redundant as no matter the answer, Cecilia continuously feels unsafe due to the trauma of her past relationship. As such, The Invisible Man disentangles itself from the reputation of being yet another schlocky horror franchise remake, as the title isn’t merely just an association of its narrative roots. Rather the movie’s title takes on a double meaning, highlighting the invisible threats that are still haunting victims of domestic violence.
In comparison to other films in the genre, The Invisible Man is one of the best horrors of the year (although that’s not saying much given it’s 2020). It’s continuously suspenseful, nicely paced with rising stakes, and it earns every jumpscare. Most of the scares are reminiscent of what’s seen in haunted house flicks, though since the Invisible Man is a physical entity grounded by the laws of physics, the movie takes on more of a battle of the wits.
Yet what makes the plot unique from ghosts is also its weakness. As wonderful and as strong as the metaphor with domestic violence is, it only carries the narrative so far. Sometimes while trying to produce something deeper, the most shallow reading is overlooked. As a result, The Invisible Man suffers the same issues as 2018’s hit horror film, A Quiet Place. On the first watch, the movie is riveting and rather alluring with its sleek production qualities and clever plotting. Yet it begins to crumble once the credits roll and the audience is left to ruminate on some of the finer details, detached from the themes and messages interwoven throughout the experience.
“What would I do?” is a common question viewers ask during a horror film. Just as how audiences will ponder their own chances of survival in A Quiet Place’s apocalyptic scenario given that snoring, sneezing and flatulence are a thing, so too will people’s minds naturally begin to wander towards the cruder aspects of life when it comes to The Invisible Man. Just how exactly does Adrian actually manage to remain hidden given the human body’s inescapable needs? There’s a point when the setting changes and these questions become rather hard to ignore. Likewise, the suspension of disbelief gets a little shaky on Cecilia’s behalf as the question as to Adrian’s whereabouts gets easier to solve the more the available space shrinks. When the room is as small as a bed sheet (and you conveniently have a bed sheet in your possession), you know what to do.
For this reason, the film’s best scene also winds up as the most frustrating. It’s a kill that has already become renown in horror geek circles and is frequently said to be the most iconic part of the movie. It’s jaw-droppingly shocking on the first watch. So it’s such a shame that the more it’s replayed, the less it actually makes sense once the audience has a chance to wrap their head around the physical placement of people’s bodies in the space. It’s those little details that will tug at your mind and unravel your appreciation for the film.
Yet while some of the movie does not stand up to scrutiny, there is still a lot to like. If you’ve seen Whannell’s previous sci-fi horror, Upgrade (which once again, I highly recommend although it is bloodier than The Invisible Man) then you know the man is a genius when it comes to fight sequences. His build up of suspense is masterful. So too is the cinematography. Elisabeth Moss is an acting powerhouse. There are also many easter eggs to enjoy that pay homage to the original. Despite being a bit on the cold side, The Invisible Man is a rare horror film that manages to stick the landing when it comes to its final act. For the most part, it’s a story that works hand in hand with its intended allegory, and even though it’s one of the more commercialized properties in the genre this year, it’s a horror that never veers into exploitation territory in regard to its deaths and level of gore. It’s certainly a film worth seeing even though there is much left unseen.
+ Nice pairing of an iconic character with a modern allegory.
+ Fights scenes.
+ Incredibly suspenseful despite a lack of action on screen.
- There will come a point where you'll question how exactly the Invisible Man lives.
- Sometimes the logistics don't make complete sense.
The Bottom Line
The Invisible Man merges one of Universal’s classic monsters with the psychological trauma of domestic violence, successfully creating an allegorical horror experience. While some parts don’t live up to scrutiny, it’s still another great film by Leigh Whannell.