The multi-talented writer-director-actor behind the hit horror franchises SAW and Insidious, as well as the bloody indie sci-fi/action thriller Upgrade and outrageous zombie-comedy Cooties, Leigh Whannell has returned to the director’s chair with a new and impressive take on a Universal Monster reboot that taps into themes of the H.G. Wells novel, but still packs a Pandora’s box full of new surprises… and if you think you’ve seen all the best bits in the admittedly over-sharing trailers, you’ve got a big surprise coming.
Released by Universal in partnership with horror-centric production company Blumhouse Productions, The Invisible Man showcases Whannell’s skill as master of genre-shifting storytelling, ranging from toxic-relationship drama to hair-rising horror, as well as thoughtful sci-fi elements that connect these parallel threads brilliantly, leading the audience through unexpected twists and turns that result in a gasp-inducing finale.
Elisabeth Moss (US, The Handmaid’s Tale) is phenomenal as always in the role of the tormented Cecelia, whose constant fear of her increasingly abusive scientist husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, The Haunting of Hill House) drives her into hiding… and doesn’t end when Adrian supposedly commits suicide, leaving her with a colossal inheritance.
As you probably know from the trailers, everyone else in Cecelia’s life dismisses her growing suspicions that Adrian is not only alive, but gaslighting her in a uniquely horrific way. Instead, they fear her understandable PTSD has driven her to paranoid delusions… and by the time she convinces the doubters, it may be too late to stop her unseen stalker.
Moss gives herself over entirely to Cecelia’s emotional roller-coaster, which propels the audience through each phase of her emotional breakdown while creating a genuinely relevant dramatic core that connects well with the psycho-stalker theme. This kind of tale can be cringe-inducing in the wrong hands, but Whanell’s script and tight, no-nonsense direction carries it off effectively, and Moss’s increasingly unhinged and sweat-inducing performance seals the deal.
If you’re familiar with Whannell’s work, it’s fun to see some of his signature elements and tactics come into play, making the most of a relatively modest budget (no doubt the film’s extensive “He’s right behind you” ad campaign cost far more than the production itself) and demonstrating how his skills have been honed over the years, balancing pure-horror scares with flashy sci-fi set-pieces, with a touch of dark humor that lightens the story just enough to keep the intensity from bursting into melodramatic histrionics as the stakes grow steadily higher.
Oh, and of course, there’s just enough snappy, brutal violence to proudly earn that R rating, which should come as a bonus to any horror fan tired of Blumhouse’s recent wave of teen-friendly fare.
In summary, The Invisible Man is a surprisingly good take on a long-standing Universal Monster classic that wisely scales back the original “tampering with nature ends in madness” theme in favor of spotlighting all-too-real modern fears. Along the way, it manages to tick all the boxes that horror fans want to see from a modern horror film.
The Invisible Man premieres Friday, February 28, but check your local theater for Thursday night screenings: this would be an especially spooky flick to watch before going home after dark…