When the horror genre is at its best, it serves as a reflection of our society’s real-life fears and concerns. As long as the horror genre has existed, the stories have served as metaphors for our deepest, most universal fears. With “The Invisible Man,” writer and director Leigh Whannell updates a classic story and provides a frighteningly realistic portrayal of abuse and stalking.
The film stars Elisabeth Moss as a woman who escapes from her abusive boyfriend, only for him to take his own life shortly thereafter. However, when strange occurrences begin to happen to her, she begins to think that he might not actually be dead.
“The Invisible Man” was originally a novel published in 1897 by H.G. Wells, which was then adapted into the classic Universal horror film in 1933, which starred Claude Rains. Both the novel and the film concerned a mad scientist who discovered the secret to invisibility and attempted to rule the world with it.
Whannell takes the core principles of that story, but updates them to the modern day in a way that is both incredibly fresh and surprising. Whannell flips the dynamic of the narrative, and makes the brilliant change of telling his version of the story from the perspective of the victim.
The strongest aspect of the film is Moss’ incredible performance. She portrays her character in a way that is frighteningly realistic and undeniably captivating. Because the villain of this film is, quite literally, invisible, much of the tension comes from Moss’ commitment to the material and immersion in the role.
Combined with Moss’ performance is Whannell’s direction and visual storytelling. He creates so much tension from shooting many of the scenes in wide shots which hold for long periods of time, allowing the audience’s imagination to run wild with where the titular Invisible Man is in the scene. This is not a film that relies on jump scares or visceral gore; rather it honors its classic horror roots by keeping audience members on the edge of their seats with an almost unbearable tension.
“The Invisible Man” is a terrific and much-needed update of a classic Universal monster that honors the original film, but is not beholden to it. The Universal monsters include classic horror icons such as Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and, of course, the Invisible Man. These characters, which were featured in films made between the 1920s through the 1950s, are pillars of both the horror genre and cinema history as a whole.
However, in the last few years, Universal has constantly tried to reboot these characters in films that portrayed them as action heroes, and all but ignored the horror aspects of the material. Both 2014’s “Dracula Untold” and 2017’s “The Mummy” attempted to start a Marvel-style cinematic universe in which the main characters resembled comic book superheroes instead of monsters. When both of those films underperformed, Universal scrapped its cinematic universe ideas and partnered with Blumhouse Productions, who are well known in the horror community for films like “Get Out,” “Split,” and 2018’s “Halloween.”
This partnership led to “The Invisible Man” going into production and the hiring of Whannell, who is well known to horror fans for writing both “Saw” and “Insidious.” This film has a much lower budget, is R-rated, and is openly accepting of its horror roots, which is something that these classic monsters deserve.
Whannell gives this classic charactewr the respect he deserves as a fundamental horror icon, while still telling his own unique story. Hopefully the success of this film leads to other classic Universal monsters getting the same treatment, because it’s exactly what these iconic characters need right now. The film is in theaters now.
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