The Invisible Man (2020)
Written & Directed by Leigh Whanell
Once upon a time, Universal Pictures wanted some of that sweet cinematic universe money, and they introduced The Dark Universe, a rebooting of classic monsters from their film catalog but modern and basically like superheroes. The opening film, The Mummy, was released, performed terribly, and received scathing reviews, and thus the Dark Universe died. Now Universal has pivoted and handed the reins to Blumhouse, a company quite skilled at coming way under budget and making lots of money with gimmicky B-horror movies. I’ll admit, I found the first Insidious to be pretty good, but the rest of their films are not my particular cup of tea. So, how does The Invisible Man stack up?
The Invisible Man is unlike most of the Universal Monsters in that he doesn’t really have a set story. He’s just an invisible guy. If you hear Dracula or Frankenstein, then you immediately have specific characters and a plot in mind. This makes The Invisible Man a much more malleable property to work with. As long as there is a man that cannot be seen, it checks the only box on the list. Leigh Whanell, the writer-director behind Saw and Insidious, helms this adaptation that adopts some of the elements of our own time, particularly the way American culture has put a sharper lense up to the issues of domestic and sexual abuse.
Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is trapped in a violent, controlling relationship with Adrian Griffin. One night, after months of planning, she manages to escape but not without waking Adrian, who chases but fails to catch her. Weeks later, Cecilia receives word that Adrian has committed suicide, and she has inherited his fortune. As she reels from this news and begins to feel relief that he won’t be tracking her down, strange things start to happen. A camera’s flash wakes her in the night. Her sister is sent inflammatory e-mails that Cecilia swears she hasn’t written. It turns out Adrian’s career was in experimental optics, and he’s constructed a suit that makes him invisible to human eyes. Using this technology, he plans to convince the world Cecilia is crazy and put her under his thumb again.
This reimagining of The Invisible Man isn’t a bad one on a conceptual level. Invisibility is one of the creepier abilities, and there is a good chance anyone who could do this would use it for their own gain and possibly harm others. Attaching the story to issues of domestic abuse is also a smart move, your antagonist is obsessed with keeping his eyes on Cecilia at all times while he wants to be hidden from the scrupulous gaze of everyone else.
The problem with this movie is the execution and how laborious the plot becomes, dragging on way past when it should have been wrapping up. The Invisible Man clocks in at just over two hours, and you feel that length. Right around the point when Cecilia discovers physical proof of Adrian still being alive, I thought we were going to have a cleverly plotted and staged showdown in the house. A great action set-piece that would wrap things up in about 20-20 minutes. I checked the time, and there was still over an hour left. The twists and turns forced into the narrative do not help and only confuse what should have been sharp and straightforward. There’s a sequence in a mental hospital that could have been another wonderful conclusion moment. Nope, 40 minutes left in the movie.
I get the sense studios are pushing for longer movies to justify higher ticket prices? But this is ruins what could have been a nice little horror flick. Elisabeth Moss is the only good element in the whole picture because she is giving a committed and emotional performance. She never devolves into melodrama and keeps Cecilia feeling like a real woman trying to escape a seemingly never-ending torment. When I think about some of my recent favorite horror movies, they either keep the action in a single setting and become more complex or move around a lot but wrap things up fairly quickly.
Midsommar is easily comparable to The Invisible Man as they both feature a female protagonist dealing with the material conditions around her, as well as her own psyche, breaking down. Midsommar is also quite long but justifies this through going deep with the characters and creating a vibrant air of mystery. The Invisible Man is entirely surface level and ultimately feels like any sort of dime-store potboiler with a few brief moments of brilliance. I think Leigh Whanell is a talented filmmaker, but so often, his work is obvious and predictable or eye-rollingly convoluted. It’s a shame.