After surprising audiences and critics with the tech noir horror thriller Upgrade, Whannell is back with The Invisible Man. An intelligent, tense, and violent re-imagining of the Universal classic. About a woman haunted by the man who abused and manipulated her.

The Story

Cecilia (played by Elisabeth Moss) is a woman trapped in a toxic relationship with genius yet narcissistic inventor Adrien Griffin (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Even after escaping him she is haunted by the fear that he is still out there trying to find her. When she gets the news that he has committed suicide she is initially celebrates and feels finally free. But as time passes, and strange things start happening, Cecilia can’t shake the feeling that Adrien is still alive and is tormenting her unseen.

Approaching Horror Remakes

Claude Rains as Dr. Jack Griffin, From the 1933 directed by James Whale

Remakes and re-adaptations have been part of the horror genre as long as it has been around. This is often because any given horror film has a core ‘what if’ idea. One that can be reinterpreted and reimagined by different filmmakers. Surprisingly The Invisible Man has had the fewest remakes of any of the classic Universal Monsters canon. Outside of The Creature From The Black Lagoon. The Invisible Man’s core ‘what if’ does not seem especially horrifying at first (what if someone learned how to be invisible) and the initial Universal films was more of a horror comedy. But if you go back to H.G. Wells’s original novel the ‘what if’ was better summarized as ‘what if a madman learned how to be invisible’. Wells and Jules Verne in particular often explored the idea of technology in the hands of people who would use it for malice. Whannell realizes this by putting the technology in the hands of a domestic abuser, someone obsessed with power and control.

What Makes This Film Work

Leigh Whannell’s genius is that he takes this core ‘what if’ and focuses on maximizing its horror potential. It’s not spoiling the film to say that the invisible man is very real. Not only did the trailers make that clear but the movie itself establishes that very early on. Whannell still leaves us with a fair amount of mystery, but this is not the focus of the film. Previous adaptations of The Invisible Man have focused on Griffin and his invisible rampage. For this remake Whannell wisely chose to shift the focus to the new character of Cecilia. A woman riddled with anxiety and fear from a controlling relationship with a toxic madman. In many ways Cecilia is the only person who knows Adrien well enough to recognize his tactics and stop him. Even if everyone thinks she’s just crazy and still not processed her trauma.

Bringing a Survivor’s Lens to Horror

Elisabeth Moss anchors this movie as Cecilia. Playing a traumatized abuse survivor flawlessly, communicating all of the insecurity and vulnerability that comes with that breed of trauma. At the same time she is a fighter, maybe even more than she realizes. Thanks to all of this, and some smart writing, the audience are rooting for Cecilia from the beginning. We want to see her escape Adrien, to convince people he’s still alive, and by the third act we want to see her stop him. 

Getting Technical

The trick is that Whannell brings us in on Cecilia’s fear early on and clues us in that the invisible man is real. The movie becomes a demented game of Where’s Waldo as the anxious audience search the film for any signs of Adrien. Worrying where he’s going to come from or do next. Rather than relying on bad editing, close-ups or shaky cam Whannell shoots the film wide. Giving the audience a sense of all the places where Adrien could be hiding. Whannell draws out our attention to the tiniest details, and has the audience jumping at even slightest footprints and sounds. This film is a masterclass in building tension through paranoia. Unlike some lesser filmmakers Whannell doesn’t stop at tension; like a Brian De Palma movie The Invisible Man punctuates it’s tension with harsh and often bloody violence. This gives the tension some stakes. We’re worried that any one of the characters will be beaten or cut apart by an unseen madman.

In Conclusion

The Invisible Man joins the ranks of The Thing, The Fly, and The Blob. A horror remake that takes the core premise of the original, but goes in an ingenius new direction with it. By making the invisible man an abuser and the main character an abuse survivor Whannell puts the audience in the edge of their seat through two tense first acts. Gradually building towards an intense and violent third, even if the pacing at the very end is a bit uneven. Check this movie out if you haven’t seen it yet, but don’t go see it alone.

You don’t know who is standing right behind you.

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