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The Invisible Man

When we last saw Australian writer/actor/director Leigh Whannell two years ago, he had graduated from James Wan’s main writer (SAW I-III, DEAD SILENCE, INSIDIOUSes) to director of “a ferocious low budget cyberpunk action thriller” (source: outlawvern.com) called UPGRADE. I guess not very many people saw it, but Blumhouse still liked him enough to listen to his pitch for a remake of THE INVISIBLE MAN. And it was apparently a good one.

It had me not long after the simple, eerie title sequence – yes, you can still have a title sequence! – of waves crashing on rocks, splashing up and dripping off of invisible letters. The opening takes place high above those rocks in the mansion of super-rich-tech-genius Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, FASTER, The Haunting of Hill House), who is asleep. His girlfriend Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss, SUBURBAN COMMANDO) is trying to sneak out, something she has clearly planned for and is very scared about, with a go-bag in a hidden compartment, a plan for turning off the security system and a rendezvous point with her confused sister Emily (Harriet Dyer).

I’m not saying it’s on the same level, but it reminded me of seeing SCREAM for the first time – throwing you without much setup into this extremely tense suspense set piece with a woman, alone at night, afraid of a man who might be out in the dark somewhere, but we don’t know where. And I like how it treats this sleek mansion with the giant windows and the amazing view – which must be a hell of a place to live in – into the scary place, the haunted house. That’s how she treats it when she later has to return there.

Once she gets away she hides out at the home of her cop friend James (Aldis Hodge, one of Zeus’s nephews in DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid, A WRINKLE IN TIME). Whannell and the outstanding Moss take time to really show how traumatized Cecilia is from all this, as well as the support she receives from this family and the sense of humor they have with each other. It seems like she can stop being so scared and start healing when she’s told that Adrian committed suicide and left all his money to her.

We know better, though, because

1) during her escape she walked through his lab, we know he was working on something
2) also we know we are watching a movie called THE INVISIBLE MAN
3) furthermore, we saw the trailer

so of course weird shit starts happening, things we see that she doesn’t (a knife floating off a table, the oven burner turning up on its own), her hearing things, sensing a presence. He’s still controlling her, scaring her, stalking her, only she can’t see him. So she practically sees him everywhere. He torments her in increasingly cruel and devious ways, setting her up to look crazy as she tries to convince her family and the authorities that, you know, her famous dead ex-boyfriend is alive and figured out how to be invisible. I noticed that a bunch of the scary things he does in the trailer are not in the movie, but that’s okay, he’s bad enough.

Of course we can understand why everybody looks at her weird and thinks she’s lost it, just based on the outlandish things she’s telling them are going on, but also Moss is extremely convincing as a woman who has been through far too much – the red eyes, the slight shakes, the bitter smile as she explains the terrible truth, clearly not in a good place mentally. You feel so bad for her.

It’s an extreme and powerful version of the “nobody believes you, I guess you’re on your own” type of horror story, with extra uneasiness added by our knowledge that the fear of not being believed is a big part of why some women never tell anybody about being abused. I don’t say this about many movies, but I think it’s genuinely pretty scary, between its well-crafted paranoia of the unseen and the villain’s unending penchant for cruel manipulation, which leads to some shocking oh shit moments. It might be too much for some people who have been through a non-sci-fi/horror version of something like that.

But of course she’s gonna be an inspirational figure, she’s not gonna crumble, she’s gonna devise a way to stand up, to fight back, to get this invisible bastard, wherever he is. And there are some action scenes. Like UPGRADE, they’re done with very smart, controlled camerawork, including long takes and stylized moves following falling bodies. There are a bunch of scenes where people get hit or shot by this invisible individual, getting knocked over, flipped, thrown, bloodied. It’s a style similar to UPGRADE’s “guy’s body is being run by a computer so he has no control as it does a bunch of crazy fight moves” (though not always quite as convincing in my opinion, but that’s okay), and it has the same choreographer, Chris Weir.

I like James Whales’ 1933 INVISIBLE MAN, based more directly on the H.G. Wells story. It has the most modern pace of the classic Universal monster movies, the highest body count, and the most psychotic villain. I haven’t seen it in a while, but I believe this is a remake more in the tradition of THE FLY, taking the title and the basic premise and completely reworking it. I mean, the original Invisible Man was the main character, we saw his research, he wore bandages and a bathrobe so as to be visible. This is not that at all. It’s also not a remake of THE HOLLOW MAN, for the same reasons. Maybe HOLLOW MAN 2, I suppose – all I remember about that is Christian Slater, fake Seatle, and that I reviewed it for Ain’t It Cool.

I’m glad this is doing well, because Whannell is good and it will help him to keep making movies. And if he has cool ideas for The Creature From the Black Lagoon or some shit I’m all for it but I actually hope he doesn’t become stuck to a franchise and just keeps making different things. We need more directors like that these days.

For now, he is the latest guy who’s supposedly doing a remake of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. I’ll believe it when I see it. But he seems like the most promising person they’ve had attached so far.

SPOILER ENDING DISCUSSIONS. In the end, Cecilia does what she feels she has to do, and although I definitely feel some sympathetic relief as she takes that deep breath of freedom, I also think Moss deliberately plays that smile so that you’ll question how on board you should be with what she just did. I actually think the ending is kind of like DEATH WISH – a cop has figured out what she did, has decided to look the other way, and her expression indicates that she might be dangerous now.

(Note: Whannell didn’t write Wan’s DEATH WISH-related movie DEATH SENTENCE, but he did play a part in it. Also, unrelated, he was in THE MATRIX RELOADED. And LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE.)

Thinking about this ambiguity later on I started thinking through the movie and how much of what’s going on we only know because we believe Cecilia. We never see her time living with Adrian, other than her escape. Her family is unaware of the abusiveness of the relationship. The invisible person terrorizing her turns out to be, at least in one incident, Adrian’s brother. Adrian claims that his brother was controlling of him, and doesn’t confess to having abused her when she tries to get him to. For a minute I even wondered if it was supposed to be left a possibility that he never was the invisible man, and she wasn’t as trustworthy as we thought (a twist that would be what they call “problematic,” in my opinion), but then I remembered that he punched through a car window when she tried to leave. And I think we heard his voice saying “Surprise” from the suit. But having the rest of her life with him happen off screen is a very effective way to tell the story, putting us in a perspective not far off from the characters she’s trying to convince, and avoiding abuse scenes that we could see on Lifetime or something if we wanted to.

Some questions: How is his breath coming out of that suit? Does it make sense for a hand covered with little cameras to create a handprint on a shower door, and if not is that why they cut that scene that I seem to remember was in the trailer? How did Adrian and his brother convince the police that he was dead? (Maybe a bribe.) Would I have been okay with it if there was a post credits scene with the Tom Cruise character from THE MUMMY because the Dark Universe is gonna happen after all? (answer: yes)

This entry was posted on Monday, March 2nd, 2020 at 7:44 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

23 Responses to “The Invisible Man”

  1. Absolutely loved this one.

    I’ve seen some complain that we never see her ex be a character and only hear about him from Moss and that takes away from the story. F*** that! You either believe her or you don’t and learning he’s a deuchy tech-bro was all I needed to go ‘yeah, she’s telling the truth. Oh yeah, that and when the movies opens up with him violently chasing her. But sure, let’s stop the movie dead cold and hear his side of the story.’

    As a huge UniMon fan I’m happy this one went and did it’s own thing and didn’t try to do any fan service, as well.

    Anyways, this is a very good one in my opinion.

  2. I thought this was an extremely effective movie; it certainly stressed me the hell out. The scares were right out of the Paranormal Activity playbook–an unseen entity can fuck with a character at any moment, so you never feel safe. But this movie isn’t hamstrung by the Paranormal Activity house style of found footage, so it has more options to play with the camera. SPOILERS The restaurant knife scene is probably the single greatest jump scare I think I’ve ever experienced in the theater. The timing of it is just brutally perfect.

    There are some third act plotting issues that are a bit iffy. Was it supposed to be ambiguous whether Adrian did any of the invisible man shit, or were we supposed to wonder whether it was all the brother? Or was it like a 50/50 time share? And it felt like people were still not believing Cecilia even after an invisible ghost shot up a jail, leaving several living witnesses (and presumably camera footage). I don’t know, things felt a bit rushed at the end even though it was already a bit long for this type of movie. Regardless, this is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in years, and the residual stress even kept me from sleeping last night.

  3. Putting the ending in the context of DEATH WISH makes me like it more. I was disappointed when I saw the movie, wish they had come up with a way she could have gotten him without the glib “ooh she gave him a taste of his own medicine!” The idea that maybe she crossed a big line and this isn’t necessarily closure, we should be worried about her (and she’s probably going to be a mom, jeez!), makes it seem more complicated and less of a cop-out.

    Minimizing the world of the film (tight group of lead characters, isolated settings for the most part) was a good choice, although it nagged me that it became public knowledge that this guy created an invisibility suit that his brother allegedly used for a multiple murder spree and the result is, “Well – good to know! Clears that right up.” Nobody from the government stepped in to say, “Hold on, an invisibility suit? One that can be used for clandestine murder? Don’t just go back to your creepy isolated life by the sea, come to the Pentagon and tell us how you developed this incredibly useful technology!” Maybe they did and he just told them to get lost, he’s got to prepare a buffet for his abused girlfriend who might want shrimp or steak.

    The theme of abuse and manipulation by a horrible piece of shit male being something that literally nobody else but the victim can see is a great take on the story. Just wish the movie had elaborated on it a little more before it turned into “Invisible Man massacre” montage for the last 30 minutes. That was all well-executed so I can’t really complain, although further delving into that idea would have kept it from feeling like “SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY + invisible man” (ENEMY also opens with a woman escaping a seaside house she shares with a rich psycho).

  4. Yup, this is very solid and well-paced. My only complaint is that I felt like they could’ve hit one more gear by the ending, somewhere closer to what that last shot teases. That would’ve put this fully in the top tier.

  5. I liked this sort of thing better when Goldie Hawn or Melanie Griffith did it back in the early ’90s. That said, I would compare this to UNSANE from a year or two back, which I got a real kick out of.

  6. Any one see the 2008 movie 100 Feet by Eric Red? It’s a kind of similar story. Woman returns to her home after killing her abusive husband in self defense. She’s forced to wear an ankle monitor that doesn’t allow her to go more than 100 feet from the building. The husband comes back as a ghost and haunts the sh** out of her.

  7. 100 FEET is great! I wish more people had seen it.

  8. I saw a test screening of it last November and they definitely made it 100% clear in that version that it was him all along, but in the dumbest way possible. At the end when she’s trying to get him to confess and goes to the bathroom to compose herself, they cut back to him at the table angrily monologuing to himself, saying something to the effect of “If that bitch thinks she can manipulate me, I might have to remind her what I’m capable of.” I guess they felt they needed to leave no doubt of his guilt, but it was such an insulting, unnecessary moment in an otherwise smart movie. I wrote down that they should take it out and was so glad that they did.

    I also didn’t remember the “Surprise” stuff being in the early version so I think that was the smoking gun they pivoted to instead. Much better.

  9. Just wanted to get on the record that I saw Upgrade at the cinema and it was great! Easily the best Venom movie of 2018!

  10. UNSANE is a good comparison and it’s also really good.

  11. So happy both for Whanell and Moss. They finally have a big hit in their hands, with big critical acclaim. They both deserve it so much.

  12. Please give me a list of “nobody believes you, I guess you’re on your own” movies, so I can stop twirling my bad memory around right now, I know there are dozens.

  13. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

    FWIW Whannell confirms it was Adrian the whole time. He only used his brother as a decoy the one time.

  14. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

    FWIW Whannell confirms it was Adrian the whole time. He only used his brother as a decoy the one time.

  15. Yeah, strong as hell movie, and while the concept isn’t as groundbreaking as every nerd site seems to think it is, the execution is nearly pitch-perfect. My only real complaint is that when the invisibility suit gets damaged, they go way overboard with the clicking and monster movie sounds. It made me imagine them asking “where can we put a Predator reference so that it’s as distracting as possible?”

  16. I really enjoyed this movie, and I’m a huge fan of ‘Upgrade’ and some of the ‘Insidious’ films. Whannell’s writing is pretty good, and his direction is too. I’d also like to see what he can do with another Universal Monster film.

    Maybe this is overanalyzing this film a little too much, but I thought the ending was a little too convenient for her, to be able to sneak into the wardrobe for the suit she hid, go to the basement and activate it, and then go finish him off; supposedly, all while she is in the bathroom freshening up?

    I guess one thing I’m not clear on (maybe I missed something in one viewing), is whether you need to activate the suit using the machine in the lab, or did he just store it connected to the machine and power supply?

  17. Brandon – THANK YOU for your service! An angry Talking Villain monologue at the end would’ve taken all the air out of that tire.

    I loved this movie, it was the perfect thing to keep me from drinking after Super Tuesday’s Super Shitty tally.

    I didn’t think Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s performance quite lived up to my expectations of the character in that final scene, but it was almost an impossible task for the monster at the end of this maze to live up to the cruelty that he’d wordlessly displayed in the scenes leading up to it. Maybe it’s better that he’s a bit of a cipher? The banality of evil and whatnot.

    Elizabeth Moss had some big Clarice Starling energy in all those beautifully expressive closeups. Maybe that was Whannell’s best directing touch – casting Moss and letting her face be the subject of so many great scenes (and the last shot especially). Anybody here seen TOP OF THE LAKE? I’m going to have to catch up on that just to see Moss in another great thing

  18. Jeff – I think any skating over the particulars of how she was able to pull off that coup was worth it so that Moss could be the one to put a stake in the monster’s heart. It had to be her – she had to take control, become brutal and savage or else the ending would’ve been a massive disappointment.

  19. This movie gives me hope that I can one day play a security guard/cop that gets walloped by a movie monster. I’m at least as doofy looking as all those guys who get mowed down by the invisible man at the end! They had a real “friends from college” vibe. Not trying to be condescending, I loved the whole thing

  20. Also loved this movie. Shout out to the big fight scene in the kitchen. That one-shot scene was amazing. I would love to see how that was done.

  21. *SPOILERS* I thought this was mostly great until it frankly fell apart at the end. After a surprisingly intelligent and emotional first 90 minutes, anchored by another great Moss performance, we suddenly get two of my least favorite tropes – 1) The villain having psychic powers to make his farfetched plan work (see The Dark Knight), and then 2) the villain exposing himself like a dumbass by gratuitously saying his catchphrase (see The Commuter). I mean, he literally told his brother to not kill anyone and leave a ton of witnesses to see him, and the brother didn’t think that was weird? And then his brother would also have to get killed that night for his plan to work? And then hope the authorities don’t find the secret lab in the house and the 2nd suit? That’s a terrible plan that only makes sense IF the ending was ambiguous, but of course like The Thing Prequel they have to scrub all interesting ambiguity because we can’t have a problematic “Women Be Crazy!” ending. (Also it doesn’t help that Jackson-Cohen’s performance feels off and doesn’t come close to the other leads. The movie interestingly sets him up as an evil Tony Stark, yet when we finally meet him he honestly looks kinda dorky and has no swagger or charisma. They literally say in the movie that he should be out of Elisabeth Moss’ league, but she’s so out of his league it’s not even funny)

    Btw, it’s funny Aldis Hodge (who is excellent in this) was also in Die Hard with a Vengeance, because this film’s 4th act/bonus climax actually feels alot like the original ending of that movie on the DVD. (After the big action climax, the hero sits down for a one-on-one dinner with the villain to supposedly play a mindgame and give him a chance, but then basically murders him in cold blood anyway)

  22. RubiLean_123poolservice

    March 19th, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    When I was reading this story, I have realized that https://poolservicelancaster.org this story wanted to portray to the reader that a man rising from my time, a man figuring the purposes of a wiser age, getting things done and accepting things that men currently can’t understand, and that in the years appointed to me there was only quiet and wanting over my spirit, solid loneliness, man’s bitterest pain.

  23. “In short, Mr Cook, I discovered that I was one of those superior Cagots called a genius — a man born out of my time — a man thinking the thoughts of a wiser age, doing things and believing things that men now cannot understand, and that in the years ordained to me there was nothing but silence and suffering for my soul — unbroken solitude, man’s bitterest pain.”

    Pool-cleaning-service spambot, or H.G. Wells in “The Chronic Argonauts”? You be the judge!

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