By Jeffrey Sanzel
H.G. Wells’ 1897 science fiction novel The Invisible Man is the story of Griffin, a former doctor, who has invented chemicals that changes a body’s optics and renders the individual invisible. Whether from the process itself or the inability to reverse it, Griffin becomes unhinged and homicidal.
Over the years, there have been various adaptations, most notably the 1933 film starring Claude Rains, which most closely followed its source. Sequels, spinoffs, and spoofs have traded on the concept with varying success.
Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, the current version of The Invisible Man focuses on abused wife Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), married to Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a world leader in the field of optics.
The film opens with Cecilia narrowly escaping her violent husband and taking shelter with her sister Emily’s (Harriet Dyer) ex-husband James (Aldis Hodge), a San Francisco police detective. Two weeks later, Cecilia is informed that Adrian has committed suicide and left her a trust of five million dollars.
Clearly, Adrian is not dead but has found a way to make himself invisible and Cecilia’s life begins to unravel. She knows this but, of course, no one will believe her. Adrian had warned her that “wherever I went, he would find me … that he would walk right up to me and I wouldn’t be able to see him … but he would leave me a sign so that I’d know he was there.”
The film is a traditional thriller, with all of the tropes, including the Kass house which is part tech laboratory, part museum, mostly glass, and all horror movie. Every movement is accented with an ominous chord; every sound — whether the flipping of a light switch or the gush of a faucet — is amplified. The camera slowly pans on vacant rooms and holds on empty corners. There are no surprises in its “surprises.”
But what makes the engine go is Elisabeth Moss, an always watchable actor, with just the right mix of classic Scream Queen and self-actualized modern woman. For the first twenty minutes, her character isn’t given much more to do but look around her, behind her, and over her shoulder. But somehow she endows it all with enough manic energy to make it believable.
Like all horror movie heroines, at first Cecilia thinks she is going crazy (as do all of the people around her). When she realizes what is happening, it all falls into place and she goes on the offensive. As Adrian destroys Cecilia’s life, including framing her for murder, the stronger and more self-reliant she becomes. A life-altering revelation furthers her resolve.
The majority of the film moves along as a psychological thriller and doesn’t resort to mild gore and special effects until well into the second half. This is a smart choice as floating objects, no matter how well executed, have a certain humor about them.
There are some nice touches that suggest Adrian’s presence: an exhaled breath in the cold night air, a dent in a chair cushion, a bloody fingerprint on a medicine bottle. These small strokes make up for many of the plot holes that are often found in horror movies. The climax is a predictable showdown but the denouement is satisfying enough.
While the film is practically a one-person vehicle, the supporting cast do the best they can. Hodge is likable as the friend. Dyer is relatable as the sister. Michael Dorman is given the unenviable task of Adrian’s sleazy jellyfish of a brother, Tom, who also served as his lawyer. Jackson-Cohen as the sociopathic Adrian barely has any screen time and is reduced to a few disembodied lines.
The Invisible Man will never be considered a great movie, and, for many, not even a good one. Even as a genre film, it doesn’t touch some of the contemporary classics like Halloween, Carrie, Get Out, The Babadook, and Let the Right One In. But for a star performance and a well-paced two hours, The Invisible Man entertains.
Rated R, The Invisible Man is now streaming online.