Review: ‘The Invisible Man’ (2020), starring Elisabeth Moss

February 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Elisabeth Moss in “The Invisible Man” (Photo by Mark Rogers/Universal Pictures)

“The Invisible Man” (2020)

Directed by Leigh Whannell

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, this reimagination of the 1933 horror classic “The Invisible Man” is a modern, female-oriented revamp, with a cast of white and African American characters who mostly represent the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman who escapes from an abusive boyfriend must convince people around her that he faked his suicide, found a way to become invisible, and is now out to get his revenge on her.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal to horror fans who are looking for a well-acted suspenseful film that has an underlying but not preachy message about social issues, such as stalking and domestic abuse.

Aldis Hodge, Elisabeth Moss and Storm Reid in “The Invisible Man” (Photo by Mark Rogers/Universal Pictures)

It might seem hard to believe, but there’s a horror-movie remake that actually isn’t an embarrassment to the original film. The 2020 version of “The Invisible Man” takes the original 1993 “The Invisible Man” movie (which was based on the H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel) and makes it an almost entirely different film by telling the story from the perspective of the Invisible Man’s girlfriend.

The 1933 version of “The Invisible Man” was about a mad scientist in England named Dr. Jack Griffin (played by Claude Rains), who discovers a drug that makes him become invisible, and he goes on a killing spree in a sinister plot to take over the world. In the 2020 version of “The Invisible Man,” the title character is Adrian Griffin (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a high-tech millionaire whose specialty is in optics. And for most of the movie, viewers don’t know much about him because his girlfriend Cecilia Kass (played by Elisabeth Moss) is front and center of the story.

At the beginning of the film, Cecilia is shown sneaking out of the bed she shares with Adrian at his oceanside mansion, which has an elaborate video surveillance system in place. The house also has a section that looks like a high-tech lab, with computers and mysterious body suits. Based on what’s shown in the next suspenseful 10 minutes, Cecilia has been planning this escape for quite some time. Cecilia has drugged Adrian, disabled the video surveillance, and packed the necessary items to leave Adrian for good.

There are a few scary close calls in Cecilia’s escape plan, but with the help of her younger sister Emily (played by Harriet Dyer), who drives the getaway car, Cecilia leaves Adrian behind with a mixture of relief and panic. Knowing that Adrian will look for Cecilia at Emily’s place, Cecilia hides out at the house of her close friend James Lanier (played by Aldis Hodge), who’s a cop and a single father to teenage daughter Sydney (played by Storm Reid), an aspiring fashion designer.

In the first two weeks after the escape, Cecilia is so traumatized that she acts like a recently released prisoner of war who’s become agoraphobic. Walking out of the house to the mailbox is big progress for her. It’s while she’s away from Adrian that Cecilia finally confesses to Emily and James the real reason why she has to take drastic measures to hide from Adrian. During Cecilia’s relationship with Adrian, he became more and more controlling and abusive. He would tell her what to do, when to eat, and what to think. And if she didn’t comply with his demands, he would hit her or do “something worse,” says Cecilia.

Cecilia is still afraid to come out of hiding, but then Emily (who’s an attorney) brings her some unexpected news: Adrian is dead of an apparent suicide, which has been reported by the local media. Not long afterward, Emily and Cecilia have a meeting with Adrian’s lawyer brother Tom Griffin (played by Michael Dorman), who is the executor of Adrian’s will. Tom tells them that Adrian left $5 million to Cecilia, on the condition that she’s proven to be mentally stable and she doesn’t get arrested for anything.

Feeling like the world’s weight has been lifted off of her shoulders, Cecilia starts to come out of her shell. As a gift, she gives $10,000 to Sydney so she can go to Parsons School of Design, and Cecilia promises more tuition money if Sydney wants to go to grad school. Cecilia also decides to resume her interrupted career as an architect, and she starts interviewing for jobs to re-enter her chosen profession.

But odd things happen during Cecilia’s job interview at an architect firm. The work samples that she had in a portfolio are not there when she opens up her portfolio. And then she passes out during the interview.

Other strange things keep happening. While cooking something in a frying pan, Cecilia briefly leaves the room and comes back to find the frying pan in flames, and it almost nearly causes a serious fire in the house. And then one night, Cecilia wakes up to find the blanket at the foot of the bed, and she sees a footprint on the blanket.

All of these  incidents might be explained away with logical reasons, but what sets Cecilia over the edge is when a prescription bottle, which she accidentally dropped during her escape from Adrian, shows up in her possession with a bloody fingerprint on it. Cecilia is convinced that it’s a sign from Adrian that he’s still alive, he’s invisible, and he’s taunting her. And things do indeed get much, much worse for Cecilia, as people around her question her sanity and she’s accused of something that could land her in prison for a very long time.

The 2020 version of “The Invisible Man” was written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who wrote the first two “Saw” movies and who created the “Insidious” franchise. (He’s written all of the “Insidious” movies so far.) “The Invisible Man” is his third movie as a director. It’s clear that he learned a lot from writing and directing the 2018 stunt-heavy film horror film “Upgrade,” because “The Invisible Man” has some heart-pounding stunts when people are fighting the Invisible Man.

Whannell’s “The Invisible Man” doesn’t rely too heavily on a lot of violence and gore for scares. (Although there is some bloody violence that will make people squirm.) Some of the most suspenseful moments in the film are the quietest moments or the claustrophobic moments, such as when Cecilia does some snooping in an attic where her invisible abuser might be hiding.

As the tortured Cecilia, Moss gives an excellent performance in making her an entirely believable character who might be losing her grip on her sanity. Hodge and Reid also give admirable performances by adding realistic emotional layers to what could have been generic supporting roles.

While a lot of modern horror films have been using hand-held camera techniques to induce scares, Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio have gone against this trend by framing many of the shots with steady overhead angles, which make the scenes more terrifying. It’s why the 2020 version of “The Invisible Man” is the type of horror movie that should be seen on as big of a screen as possible.

The above-average acting and the modern reimagination of this classic horror story make up for the fact that “The Invisible Man” has some plot holes, especially with unrealistic police techniques and procedures. However, these minor flaws shouldn’t take too much away from the film.

“The Invisible Man” is the first of a series of remakes of Universal Pictures monster movies that Universal has assigned to Blumhouse Productions, whose specialty is horror, with franchises such as “The Purge” and “Insidious.” Universal’s classic monster movies include “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Mummy,” “The Wolf Man” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Let’s hope that these remakes will continue what this version of “The Invisible Man” started, by bringing fresh ideas without tarnishing the quality of the original story.

Universal Pictures released “The Invisible Man” in U.S. cinemas on February 28, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has moved up the VOD release of “The Invisible Man” to March 20, 2020.