Fresh New Take on Old-Time Classic
Though more than eighty years have passed since Claude Rains donned the dark sunglasses, smoking jacket, and yards of ACE bandages in 1933ís The Invisible Man, the character still holds a firm place in the pantheon of Universalís classic movie monsters. Thatís not only a testament to the legacy of the studioís monster characters, but also a bold statement about the themes they represent and the timelessness of the cultural fears and social anxieties that surround them.
As did James Whale in the í33 original, writer/director Leigh Whannell (Saw, The Conjuring) works modern day themes into his reimagining of The Invisible Man, a film which represents a fresh, new direction and a drastic departure from Universalís initial vision of a Dark Universe that was to feature many of the studioís famed monsters. As a result, The Invisible Man is a fresh, new take on an old time classic. And just like many of those classic monster tales from back in the day, this one is certain to scare the pants off a whole new generation of horror lovers.
Despite a shared character and a few universal similarities, the two films really couldnít be any more different as Whale concentrated his tale on the descent into madness of a deranged scientist, while this modern take comes from the point of view of the villainís victim. And that is Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), a smart, strong woman who is trapped in an abusive relationship.
Following a Hitchcock-inspired opening title sequence, we join the film as Cecilia is sneaking out of the cliffside mansion she shares with tech industry millionaire husband Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Griffin). She slips out during the middle of the night and takes refuge in the home of her cop friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). The film then jumps forward two weeks where we see Cecilia is still in a hyper-paranoid state, afraid to even walk outside to the mailbox.
tís not long before Cecilia receives word that her husband is now dead, having taken his own life. Then Adrianís brother informs her of a $5 million trust established in her nameÖ but there are conditions to receiving the money. For Cecilia, this all sounds too good to be true and her hunch proves to be correct as she begins to suspect that Adrian Ė an optics guru Ė has figured out a way to make himself invisible. She senses his presence as he sneaks, undetected, into Jamesí house and watches her when she is alone.
Of course nobody believes her, but we know sheís right and Whannell expertly uses this unseen power to maximum effect as we watch Cecilia descend into a literal nightmare. She tries to convince James and even her sister that she is being terrorized, but itís all too easy to dismiss her fear and paranoia and blame it on mental illness and hysteria. Whannell uses the idea of an invisible force that exerts its control over a woman and updates the filmís classic premise with a powerful and timely metaphor about our current climate of toxic masculinity.
Whannell builds up to the final chapterís frantic sequences with a slow burn of near motionless scenes as his camera frequently lets a scene marinate in the juices of the audienceís imagination. The horror is found in the empty corner of a room or at the end of a darkened hallway. Weíre on pins and needles as we scan the frames, looking for the smallest of actions. We might notice that a once visible knife on the kitchen counter is now missing. Or we may spot an invisible footprint pressing itself into the bathroom rug. As he showed us in Paranormal Activity, Whannell knows that the root of fear and horror lies in the things we donít see rather than from those we do. Let an audience imagine what they want to see and youíll have them eating out of your hands. As a result, we totally buy into Whannellís frightening tale that reminds us that what we canít see, can hurt us.
As expected, Whannellís ace in the hole is Moss, who, despite her pair of Golden Globe wins, has seemingly spent her career waiting for this role. The Invisible Man is essentially a one-person show and Moss brings a lot of her Handmaidís Tale baggage to the set as she totally sells us on the conflict and turmoil of an abused woman. Despite Whannellís expertise behind the camera, none of this works as well as it does without Moss in the lead role. Even more proof that large budgets and a stable of A-listers arenít needed to frighten an audience out of its wits.
More than eighty years removed from Claude Rainsí bespectacled take on one of Universalís most beloved classic movie monsters, the invisible man reappears and brings with him one of the greatest horror films in quite some time. Itís R-rated fun with plenty of blood, camp, violence, nastiness, and frightening characters. Who needs the Dark Universe, anyway?
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated ďRĒ for strong bloody violence, and language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com .