A new offering from Australian director Leigh Whannell is 2020’s surprisingly superb thriller, “The Invisible Man,” a spiritual remake of James Whale’s 1933 film of the same title.
Riding high after his 2018 film “Upgrade,” an imaginative new take on body-horror, Whannell strikes back with a twist on the mad scientist trope by hardly including the scientist at all. “The Invisible Man” boasts great originality and freshness, which is the reason this exclusion works so well. Adrian, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, is a tech-savvy genius who is the world leader in innovative optic technology. Yet he has limited time onscreen, making him invisible before the movie picks up speed. He’s an abuser, but his villainous acts are never put to screen. All the audience knows is he’s a bad man by word of mouth, which makes for a surprisingly great watch.
“The Invisible Man” flips audiences’ expectations by focusing the story around the title character’s ex-girlfriend Cecilia Kass, played by Elisabeth Moss. What sets the film apart from its contemporaries is how it incorporates its supporting cast into the plot. One by one, they are manipulated into turning against Cecilia, causing her to descend into madness during the heartbreaking third act.
Moss’ performance is nothing less than stellar because she absolutely steals the show with her portrayal of a relentless fighter who is slowly broken down by a master manipulator. Moss brings an edge to her character that can be seen in other performances given by the American actress: Cecilia never doubts her gut and doesn’t back down, but she struggles to prove her sanity is intact. She remains a victim to a powerful abuser, even if the people around her can’t see him, so she fights to prove it.
Whannell goes back to the basics when it comes to low budget storytelling with wide shots containing claustrophobic tension. What’s fantastic about “The Invisible Man” is it lacks the over-saturation of forced screams through jump scares. Whannell sets himself apart from contemporary Hollywood horror movies because the audience must watch Cecilia fall into madness as she is relentlessly stalked by an invisible man. Whannell’s film works psychologically through brilliant mind games, and Stefan Duscio’s camerawork plays with the audience’s expectations, instigating a cat and mouse game of where to look next.
In 2017, Universal Pictures scrapped the idea of the “Dark Universe,” a cinematic universe which combined the iconic movie monsters. “The Invisible Man” is the first film since the decision to move forward without a combined movie sphere, and this proves to be a smart choice as the film works well on its own. All the filmmaking elements work together to form a cohesive, standalone flick that is easy to stomach.
In the wake of sequels and movies that garner big box office draw, “The Invisible Man” feels different, almost original as it has a definitive ending that leaves nothing to the imagination. No questions are left unanswered, and Whannell leaves nothing ambiguous, which makes the film great.