This new version of The Invisible Man seems very topical. Indeed, the subject matter exposing women in manipulating relationships has modernised this old tale, but it’s been done so in a shallow way that meekly presents what are otherwise serious themes. Despite some effective scares and thrills thrown in, this is a stock and standard beginning to this new Universal Monsters franchise.
This adaptation of the 1897 HG Wells story this time isn’t so centred around its title character, who is merely given a bogey-man status. Instead the film focuses on his (Adrian’s) girlfriend Cecilia (it girl Elisabeth Moss), who escapes from his clutches after he traumatises and tries to control her. After just two weeks without her, he commits suicide, and everyone believes Cecelia can now rest easy.
But the looming ghost of her abuse remains as she suspects that Adrian is actually still alive – and is now stalking her with the powers of invisibility. She obviously has a hard time trying to convince others of her suspicions, including her confidante James (Aldis Hodge) and even Adrian’s brother Tom (Michael Dorman), which leads into the reality of this situation remaining ambiguous (unless you’ve seen the very spoiler-y trailer).
Given the incredibly standard dialogue between each character, which does little to distinguish them, The Invisible Man works best when it’s quiet – the moments of tension building, with the camera lingering on empty space (where Adrian may be lurking) is downright unnerving, and this intelligent visual design brilliantly utilises misdirection to catch the audience off guard. In any other film, such long shots of areas with no characters wouldn’t garner so many thrills, but The Invisible Man uses this to its advantage – sometimes.
But all the other moments in between these scares are written in a very stock manner, not unlike if an algorithm had written them, making for much more downtime than thrills. And all the mannered and carefully developed horror elements are all completely discarded during the overwrought and unnecessarily twisty ending, this film believing that a simple conclusion would be too easy, though it ends up proving the opposite.
Writer-director Leigh Whannell has crafted this film with a slickness that’s incredibly tidy and satisfying to watch, though lacks any juiciness of his previous directorial effort (the gleefully trashy Upgrade), both in the visual style and in the story. This new Invisible Man is simply serviceable, but with the talent in front of and behind the camera, there’s definitely the creeping feeling that this has been a heavily compromised film.