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.

Review: ‘Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island,’ starring Lucy Hale and Michael Peña

February 14, 2020

by Carla Hay

Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell and Michael Peña in “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” (Photo by Christopher Moss/Columbia Pictures)

“Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” 

Directed by Jeff Wadlow

Culture Representation: Taking place in a fictional South Pacific locale, the horror film “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” (inspired by the 1977-1984 TV series) follows a racially diverse cast of middle-class characters who go to a luxurious island to fulfill their biggest fantasies.

Culture Clash: The fantasies turn into nightmares, as the island visitors end up in terrifying life-threatening situations.

Culture Audience: “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” will appeal mostly to horror enthusiasts or curious fans of the original TV series who already know that the movie will be filled with over-the-top entertainment.

Lucy Hale, Maggie Q, Austin Stowell, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen and Parisa Fitz-Henley in “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” (Photo by Christopher Moss/Columbia Pictures)

Here’s one thing that “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” movie has in common with the 1977-1984 TV series “Fantasy Island” TV series that inspired the film: There’s plenty of cheesiness to go around. The premise is still the same: A group of strangers fly on a private plane to a beautiful island, where they meet their host: the enigmatic Mr. Roarke, who always wears a white suit. All of the strangers are there to fulfill their biggest fantasies. And one by one, they begin to regret that their wishes came true.

The TV series had so much over-the-top ridiculousness (including Mr. Roarke fighting the devil) that people who’ve seen the show might already sense that the movie isn’t going to have any aspirations of being an arthouse film. However, the movie, which was filmed in Fiji, is a pretty good advertisement for the South Pacific country’s gorgeous landscape. The brand name for Blumhouse (the production company whose specialty is horror, with franchises such as “The Purge” and “Insidious”) might be an added attraction, but the quality of Blumhouse films is hit or miss.

Case in point: Blumhouse was the production company behind writer/director Jordan Peele’s 2017 Oscar-winning horror blockbuster “Get Out.” But Blumhouse also did 2017’s “Truth or Dare,” one of Blumhouse’s worst horror movies, directed by Jeff Wadlow, starring Lucy Hale, and written by Wadlow, Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs. And guess what? All four of them have reteamed for “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island,” which is only slightly better than “Truth or Dare,” because at least “Fantasy Island” made some attempt to be a horror film that’s a little more intricate than a cliché slasher flick. Too bad that attempt results in a convoluted mess.

Who are the strangers who’ve gathered on this island and what are their fantasies? They are contest winners who, when they first arrive, cynically speculate about what kinds of elaborate stunts will be pulled to make their fantasies look realistic. Sarcastic beauty Melanie Cole (played by Hale) wants revenge on former schoolmate Sloane Maddison (played by Portia Doubleday), who bullied Melanie in their childhood. Nerdy stepbrothers JD Weaver (played by Ryan Hansen) and Brax Weaver (played by Jimmy O. Yang) want to live out their wildest party fantasies.

Patrick Sullivan (played by Austin Stowell) is a good-guy cop who has a military “Call of Duty” type of fantasy that involves someone from his past. Insecure and sad Gwen Olsen (played by Maggie Q) wants to go back in time to change a decision she made years ago in her personal life. They are greeted by Mr. Roarke (played by Michael Peña), who tells them that once they’ve started living their fantasies, they can’t go back and change their minds.

The “Fantasy Island” TV series famously had an energetic character named Tattoo (played by Hervé Villechaize) as Mr. Roarke’s assistant. In this movie, Mr. Roarke’s assistant is a woman named Julia (played by Parisa Fitz-Henley), who’s as calm as Tattoo was hyper. This movie’s Mr. Roarke is much more serious and aloof than the TV version of Mr. Roarke (played by Ricardo Montalbán), although one thing is still the same: He greets his staff by saying, “Smiles, everyone. Smiles.”

Speaking of the Fantasy Island staffers in the movie, they are some of the biggest clues that all is not so wonderful on Fantasy Island. Julia gets mysterious nose bleeds and has a vacant stare. (And later in the movie, some of the employees bleed black bile from their eyes.) One of the staffers is so creepy-looking that he looks like he walked straight from an audition for playing Riff Raff in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Because the movie has numerous twists and turns, there’s only so much that can be described without giving away spoiler information. Melanie is taken to a high-tech room where she thinks she’s seeing a hologram of her former nemesis Sloane, who’s tied up and gagged and sitting in a torture-chamber chair. Melanie has fun pushing certain buttons on the control panel that cause Sloane to go through various forms of torture. But then Melanie figures out that the Sloane she’s seeing isn’t a hologram but the real person.

JD and Brax are taken to a massive pool party that looks like a commercial for a Hedonism II Resort, where they’re surrounded by gorgeous people (women for JD; men for Brax, who is openly gay) and whatever they want to get intoxicated. JD and Brax provide most of the comic relief in the film, although some of their poorly written jokes fall flatter than Mr. Roarke’s emotionless voice.

Meanwhile, Patrick isn’t having as much fun as the Weaver brothers. He’s been taken into the jungle by soldiers who start off by treating him like a prisoner, and he has to earn their respect to be part of the squad. As for Gwen, she wakes up to find herself reconnecting with someone she thought she would never see again.

The movie switches back and forth between all four fantasies until some of the fantasies start to overlap with one another. Some characters come and go without much explanation. Some characters might be real or they might be part of a fantasy. And the last 20 minutes of the film are absolutely bonkers with all the plot twists that try to tie in what happened earlier in the story.

“Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” is like a giant tangled, rotting ball of yarn that keeps gathering dustballs of bad ideas on top of more bad ideas. You can try to untangle it to sort it all out, but it’s not worth it, and it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Columbia Pictures released “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” in U.S. cinemas on February 14, 2020.

2017 Halloween Horror Nights: ‘The Horrors of Blumhouse’ mazes added at Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando

August 29, 2017

The following is a press release from Halloween Horror Nights:

Jason Blum, one of today’s most prolific producers of contemporary horror films, brings his signature movies to life in the uniquely distinctive “The Horrors of Blumhouse” maze at this year’s “Halloween Horror Nights” event at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort, beginning Friday, September 15.

Based on “The Purge,” “Sinister” and “Insidious” franchises, as well as the upcoming thriller “Happy Death Day,” Blumhouse Productions (“Split,” “Get Out,” “Whiplash “), is teaming with the creative minds behind the nation’s most intense and immersive Halloween event to unleash three twisted Blumhouse films in one bone-chilling experience at each Halloween destination.

At Universal Studios Hollywood, legions of terrified guests will come face-to-face with the most iconic and unnerving moments from the blockbuster “The Purge” franchise, “Sinistermovies and soon-to-be released “Happy Death Day.” In The Purge, guests will attempt to survive the night as they are immersed in the film’s depraved world, where all crime is declared legal as part of the government’s annually sanctioned 12-hour Purge. In what can be described as a living trailer for “Happy Death Day,” guests will experience a deja-vu scenario as they are forced to relive the last day of their lives over and over again in an attempt to escape a masked killer. The final nightmare will unmask itself in Sinister, where guests will encounter an ancient pagan deity who is determined to trap them in the sordid shadow world of the dead…for all eternity.

“It’s a privilege to collaborate with Jason Blum and his team at Blumhouse Productions to create ‘The Horrors of Blumhouse,’” said John Murdy, Creative Director at Universal Studios Hollywood and Executive Producer of “Halloween Horror Nights.” “The decisive, inventive way in which he interprets underlying issues plaguing today’s society into his films provides us with a plethora of content to create truly captivating, one-of-a-kind modern horror experiences for our guests.”

Upon entering “The Horrors of Blumhouse” maze at Universal Orlando Resort, guests will attempt to survive three of the most menacing anthologies in the Blumhouse assemblage. First, guests will face the horror of becoming stars in the next home murder movie of the menacing demon Bughuul, from the infamous “Sinister” franchise. Then, they’ll run for their lives to escape the gang of bloodthirsty home invaders from the first installment of “The Purge” saga. Finally, guests will be thrust into the Further from the “Insidious” legend, where they’ll come face-to-face with the paralyzing Lipstick-Face Demon from Chapter 1 and witness Dr. Elise Rainier’s own personal hauntings from her nightmarish childhood in a first-look at “Insidious: Chapter 4” – in theaters January 5, 2018.

“We’re thrilled to bring the terrifying vision of Jason Blum and the Blumhouse Productions team to life on an even grander scale at Halloween Horror Nights 2017,” said Charles Gray, Show Director for Creative Development, Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando Resort. “He is the modern voice of horror, whose films run the gamut of intense, in-your-face terror – and this year, we’re taking our guests deeper into the horrific world of Blumhouse than ever before.”

“We are so excited to expand our collaboration with the terrific creative team at ‘Halloween Horror Nights’ this year,” commented Blum. “With ‘The Horrors of Blumhouse’ maze, people will be able to fully immerse themselves into the cinematic worlds of our most terrifying films – with bone-chilling results.”

Universal Studios’ “Halloween Horror Nights” is the ultimate Halloween event. For more than 20 years, guests from around the world have visited Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood and Orlando to become victims inside their own horror film. The streets of each coast’s event are transformed into highly-themed scare zones where menacing “scare-actors” lunge from every darkened corner. Multiple movie-quality haunted houses are erected throughout the event, based on everything from iconic slasher films to hit horror television series to haunting original stories.

Additional details about Universal Studios’ “Halloween Horror Nights” will be revealed soon. For more information about Halloween Horror Nights at either Universal Studios Hollywood or Universal Orlando Resort, visit www.HalloweenHorrorNights.com.

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