Review by James Lindorf
In the 1930’s Universal Pictures created at least one film for its most iconic monsters, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Werewolf, and The Mummy are among the most notable. Over the years each character has appeared time and time again with varying degrees of success. Universal had a significant hit with the 1999 version of The Mummy and has been trying to recapture that achievement ever since. In 2014 following the success found at Marvel Studios, Universal announced the monsters would unite and soon terrorizing the “Dark Universe”. After a resounding dud of a Dracula story and an underperforming Mummy reboot the “Dark Universe” appears to have collapsed in on itself. Changing course or perhaps only changing creative teams Universal partnered with the new home for horror, Blumhouse Productions, for a fresh take on The Invisible Man. Blumhouse tapped Writer/Director Leigh Whannell (Insidious: Chapter 3) to create his version of the 123-year-old story. Whannell’s vision will appear in theaters around the country on February 28th.
On the outside, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) is living the dream by being married to an attractive, wealthy, and brilliant scientist. Inside the walls of their isolated mansion, her life is more of a nightmare of endless psychological and physical abuse as punishment for disobeying any of Adrian’s (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) commands. Cecilia escapes in the middle of the night with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer), and their childhood friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid) welcome her into their home. As time passes and after Adrian’s apparent suicide, Cecilia finally believes that she can be in control of her life again. As a series of eerie coincidences turn deadly, Cecilia’s sanity begins to unravel as she desperately tries to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.
Whannell didn’t break the mold with his script but may have cracked it in a few places. Changing the focal point from the “monster” to a battered woman was a great choice fitting the current times. Instead of a maniac embracing his powers and tormenting a town, we follow Cecilia as she and everyone she loves is gaslight into questioning her sanity. The quality of the rest of the elements and whether or not Whannell stuck the landing can be discussed, but this change should be universally applauded.
Another round of applause should go to the team responsible for the film’s sound design. There are two main types of scares associated with horror films. The first is jump scares, where something or someone comes out of nowhere to elicit a reaction. The surprise is usually accompanied by a loud noise that enhances the viewer’s fright. The second type is atmospheric scares; these are built by mixing low tones and silence, which tends to be the most unsettling. The sound and music departments for The Invisible Man created a hybrid of these two styles. There is silence, and the sound that is there seems to be building up for jump scare, and sometimes they happen, but the rest of the time, it is just for the atmosphere. It is a great way to keep the tension and horror at an elevated level in a movie where no one can see the villain.
While Whannell and the sound team did excellent work, the real star of the film is Elisabeth Moss. If this film came out late in the year around Halloween, there is little doubt in my mind that Moss would be considered for some major acting awards. The fear, anger, and desperation that radiates off of her are palpable. Her performance, more than anything, is what will make this a movie that can be watched over and over. Even though bits of the plot are predictable, and the effects are not always best, The Invisible Man is the best Universal monster film in at least twenty years, if not fifty. With a modest 8-million-dollar budget, everyone involved should expect to see massive returns on investment. If Universal Pictures wants to revive the “Dark Universe” then furthering their partnership with Blumhouse is the best way to go.