What you can’t see can kill you!
The 2020 remake of The Invisible Man is a chilling horror film but not for the initial reasons one may expect. It makes perfect use of special effects and audience expectation to craft a sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller.
In this updated and modern version of The Invisible Man, the horror is about domestic violence. A woman escapes an abusive relationship, learning that her abuser has died. However she doesn’t believe it. Instead she thinks he has found a way to turn invisible and continue haunting and hurting her. Unfortunately, she is right. This looks like a chilling adaptation of the story.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
In the neighborhoods surrounding San Francisco, California, a young woman Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) escapes the compound-like house of her boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in the middle of the night after drugging him. She is picked up on a back road by her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer) as Adrian reaches the car, smashing in a window. Cecilia goes to stay with her friend James (Aldis Hodge), a SFPD detective, and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Cecilia can’t even bring herself to go out of the house.
Two weeks later Emily brings her news that Adrian, a tech-magnate in optics, committed suicide. The two visit with his brother and manager of his estate, Tom (Michael Dorman). She is award $5million from the estate of which she gives $10,000 a month to Sydney for college. Strange things begin to happen to Cee, as her friends call her. One night the covers are pulled off her and when she goes to get them “someone” is standing on them. James doesn’t believe her.
At a job interview her portfolio pages are missing abruptly. She faints from an overdose of diazepam (the same drug she gave Adrian) but she had lost her prescription 2 weeks ago. A hateful email gets sent to Emily from Cecilia’s account severing that relationship as well. Paranoid and alone in the house, she calls Adrian’s phone on a whim knowing he’s not really dead and it rings in the attic. She finds a small collection of things in the dark room before dumping paint on the invisible man standing on the ladder. He attacks her throwing her around the house. She flees, calling a Lyft to take her to Adrian’s house. There she finds a special invisibility suit that she hides in a closet.
She meets with Emily at a public restaurant to patch things up, and explain what she found, when a knife appears in mid air. It slices Emily’s throat and jumps into Cecilia’s hand. She is taken into custody where she learns that she is pregnant with Adrian’s baby. Tom visits saying that all this can go away if she signs some papers and goes back to Griffin. She says that will never happen. In her room that night she takes a stolen pen and tries to kill herself, but is stopped by an invisible hand. She uses the opportunity to stab the suit with the pen making it malfunction.
In the rain outside, the now partially visible man takes down a number of guards before threatening Cecilia saying he will kill Sydney and it’s all Cecilia’s fault. Cee runs off taking a car from a nearby motorist and calls James to warn him. He gets to the house first and finds his daughter being attacked by nothing. James is beaten up by the invisible assailant and almost kills him but is stopped by Cecilia. She sprays a fire extinguisher into his suit and then shoots him four times. When the mask is pulled off it’s Tom instead–not Adrian!
The police find Adrian tied up in his basement and readily believe that it was Tom who faked his brother’s death and was the assailant. But not Cecilia. This is Adrian’s M.O. She calls him and sets up a dinner. When she arrives she is wearing a wire, with James in a car outside. She says he can be part of the baby’s life, but he must start telling the truth. He repeatedly says that he loves her and has nothing to do with any of this. She excuses herself to freshen up. Adrian’s hand–with his steak knife–jumps up to his throat and slices it. Cecilia returns and calls 911 reporting a suicide. She leaves, running into James on the way out, part of an invisibility suit poking out of her bag. She tells her friend that it seems like Adrian committed suicide, and he concurs.
“He controlled how I looked, and what I wore, and what I ate. And then it was controlling when I left the house, and what I said. And eventually, what I thought.” – Cecilia
As far as remakes and adaptations, the 2020 version of The Invisible Man is by far the most chilling. Previous to this release the 2000 film Hollow Man injected some types of horror back into the tale of invisible men, but invisibility is often regulated to comedic portrayals or side characters, as in 2003s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Here, director Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious, Cooties) updates the story about a scientist inventing an invisibility formula so that it is a tale of modern trauma and horror.
Rather than have the character create some kind of formula or cream to turn invisible, the 21st Century adaptation features a tech genius creating a suit that deals with optics rendering the wearer invisible. This not only solves some of the critical complaints about rendering a human invisible that other films choose not to deal with (see yesterday’s H-Origins article on the 1933 Invisible Man), but also keeps from having the character always running around naked while invisible. Special effects have come a long way in 87 years allowing something like this to be more plausible.
But the real horror and suspense in this version comes from the drastic change in the relationships of the characters. Instead of a mad scientist who wants to create something to impress his girl, or even a military scientist attempting to make a new weapon, Whannell’s Invisible Man tackles the issue of domestic abuse. In fact, removing the technological aspects of a person that can become invisible, the film is still a strong thriller about a controlling man who abuses and gaslights the woman he’s in a relationship with. With the invisibility aspect, it creates a heightened sense of an already real phenomena where the audience must wonder how can Cecilia prove her innocence and escape this madman?
Adrian’s machinations which he creates just to keep Cecilia in his life are as crazy and distorted as Jack Griffin’s beliefs from the original Invisible Man. The audience realizes the horror before the characters do in this case. Cecelia seems free at the beginning of the story, but the audience has come to see “The Invisible Man,” and know that it’s far from over. Even though the film is about technology, it’s the interpersonal aspects of the characters’ relationships that drive the narrative. Emily helps her sister begrudgingly and is quick to dismiss her, after the email exchange. Apparently not the strongest bond between these two. James is there for Cecilia, but once he believes she has struck his child, he distances himself. These are the mind games that Adrian plays with those around him, whether invisible or not.
In the end, Cecilia is able to reclaim her sanity by proving, if only to herself, that she is not crazy and ridding her world of this toxic personality. But the film, while giving audiences a few moments to cheer her victory however devious, doesn’t leave on a happy note. Cecilia walks off with the extra invisibility suit, and a bit more swagger, to an uncertain future. Has the taste of power made her looking to right more wrongs? She even manipulates James to admit that Adrian killed himself, even though the detective knows in his heart what happened. It’s a slippery slope, and an interesting debate topic for fans.
As far as remakes or reimaginings go, The Invisible Man is very strong. It makes the story contemporary, rather than return to a simpler time to retell a Victorian or Early Americana version. Elizabeth Moss is excellent as Cecilia, selling the intensity and fear or her interactions with Adrian. She makes use of all the non-special effects elements to allow the audience to believe that there’s another character in the room, and that her life is in danger. Whennell also continues to prove that he is one of the new masters of horror; both competent in the language of camera, but also with the expectations of the audience. He is a master manipulator worth of Adrian Griffin himself.
- The Invisible Man does an excellent job of portraying the paranoia of Cecilia, and playing off audiences’ knowledge of horror cues. The camera would often focus on an empty piece of screen, or pan to nothing for no apparent reason. Is it showing the invisible man or just the fear that someone may be standing there?
- Adrian’s surname is Griffin as an homage to Jack Griffin, the character of the 1933 The Invisible Man, which was also released by Universal Pictures.
- Elizabeth Moss showed up as a family friend in last year’s horror hit Us.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.