Synopsis: When Cecilia’s abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman
Director: Leigh Whannell
Running Length: 124 Minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: In the mid 2010’s, Universal Studios saw the writing on the wall. They didn’t have any true franchise properties left and even the recently resurrected Jurassic World would only take them so far. With Marvel doing beyond spectacular business with The Avengers and all their spin-offs and after Warner Brothers got into the groove of their DC world with Wonder Woman, the once titan Universal was suddenly taking at least the bronze in the box office Olympics. Then, some clever person within the company hit on something…the studio had a literal haunted house full of characters that had filled their coffers almost a hundred years earlier and had largely laid dormant for the last half century. Why not resurrect Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and Frankenstein? Then they’d give them a modern twist to create what was to be known as the Dark Universe.
To me, this sounded like a heck of a lot of fun. With The Mummy in production with Tom Cruise, the kernel of an idea started to grow into something interesting with the news that Oscar winners Russell Crowe, Javier Bardem, Angelina Jolie, and other A-listers like Johnny Depp would be coming on board for various projects over the next several years. Announcing not just the movies but also actual release dates along with a much passed around photo of these stars giving their best brooding monster face, the studio put all of their precious eggs in one mummified basket and the result…was a complete disaster. Released in 2017, The Mummy had its moments but Cruise was too old for his role and the titular character (recast as a female and that’s where the creativity stopped) was largely absent. While not a complete bomb, the box office returns were paltry enough to completely throw the Dark Universe off its axis, resulting in a humiliating about face for Universal, which eventually cancelled all of its gothically grandiose plans. The Dark Universe was dead.
It was surprising, then, to see a new version of The Invisible Man quietly make its way onto the schedule for an early 2020 release. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (Insidious: Chapter 3), this isn’t a straight-up remake of the classic film from 1897 based on the novel by H.G. Wells but an original story that has more in common with the 1991 Julia Roberts film Sleeping with the Enemy. What made The Mummy such a downer was how much it was clear it was trying to be this jumping off point for something bigger. The Invisible Man doesn’t come with those extra trappings (at least not that I could immediately observe) so it has a freedom to be its own monster instead of being the first step in a full-blown creature crawl.
The first thirty minutes of Whannell’s movie is focused on establishing Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss, Us), a woman putting her life back together after escaping (literally) her violent and controlling significant other, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, The Raven). Fleeing from his impressively secure beachfront home in the middle of the night, she hides out with her sister’s boyfriend James (Aldis Hodge, Clemency) in the home he shares with his daughter (Storm Reid, A Wrinkle in Time). Fearing Adrian will find her and even though James is a police officer that isn’t rattled easily, Cecilia stays indoors and out of sight…until her sister (Harriet Dyer) arrives with the news that Adrian has taken his own life. Now…Cecilia is truly free.
Adrian’s death brings Cecilia some emotional relief and a financial windfall after she’s named the beneficiary of his fortune at a meeting with his brother, Tom (Michael Dorman, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales). The calm is short lived, though, because soon she starts to get the strange feeling she’s being watched by an unseen presence. Items start to disappear and events occur that can’t be easily explained unless…maybe Adrian isn’t really dead. Perhaps his work in optics has given him a way to crack the code on invisibility and allowed him to stalk Cecelia, her family, and her friends. Could that invisibility suit he was working on in his lab actually work to let him slip in and out of Cecilia’s new life unnoticed and enact psychological torture on her? Then again…with her already fragile mental state it could be that Cecelia is just imagining it all and she’s the one behind the violence that begins to occur?
At 124 minutes, Whannell definitely gives audiences a full movie experience with a beginning, middle, and an end and I appreciated the whole thing felt like such a complete package. It absolutely has an old-school ‘90s vibe to it and that isn’t a bad thing in my book, though it may come off a little hokey for movie-goers used to seeing their foes instead of just imagining them. Blessedly going light on the kind of visual effects that could have bogged things down, Whannell opts for practical methods to elicit good scares along the way. I think there are a few too many one-person fights with an invisible enemy but they are staged with flair that keep you alert and engaged. The final 40 minutes are a wild ride, yet Whannell makes a bold choice to end the movie on a quieter (but still effective) note than you may be used to.
Though she’s amassed a large fan following from her days on Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale, I’ve never totally warmed to Moss as an actress. Her addled lady on the edge only goes so far with me and after 2019’s Her Smell was so widely embraced I sort of just couldn’t take it anymore. (I can’t believe how many people liked that movie – it’s just…blah…terrible and you can hate me all you want for saying it). Here, though, all the ticks and quirks that Moss uses as calling cards work in her favor and she positively makes this movie soar on a different level than a conventional horror film. She has the relatable “Anytown, U.S.A.” look to her so that when she turns around and surveys an empty room, unable to place why she’s uneasy but knowing something is wrong, you instantly understand the rising fear. Her performance is so key that while the rest of the supporting cast is strong (Hodge, in particular, is becoming a value-add to anything he shows up in), they tend to fade into the background when sharing the screen with her.
If this is where Universal is going creatively with their intellectual property than I say more power to them because it’s an intriguing entry point into pulling from the past to create something new. In November it was announced that Elizabeth Banks would direct and star in The Invisible Woman which thankfully isn’t related to this movie and they also have plays for a Renfield movie, taking a secondary character from Dracula off the sidelines and positing them at the forefront. All interesting choices that I’m excited to see play out. Right here, right now though…The Invisible Man is well worth getting a glimpse of.